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The Tinkered Mind
A meditation app is forthcoming. Stay Tuned.
February 27th, 2022
The restaurant air was filled with laughter. Lucilius gasped for breath, and took the break in conversation to get up from the table for a minute. A last quip was slung his way and he snickered as the table erupted in laughter again. It was a perfect night, Lucilius thought as he walked away, celebrating his company’s success with true friends, reveling in the best that life had to offer. He paused at the bar to ask the bartender where the restroom was when a cold terror filled his body.
“Can I help you?” The barman asked.
Lucilius quickly ducked around a corner from the bar and peered back. The barman looked briefly side to side, feeling awkward, but it was past the barman Lucilius was looking. He studied the face of a man at the bar who was smiling, talking with a woman, the two leaning close to one another.
Lucilius rolled back against the wall, out of sight and closed his eyes. Was this a dream, he asked himself. But he could remember the details of the day clearly, the narrative pick-up from yesterday. He opened his eyes and checked details all around him, text on a notice board, the light of the room. He snuck a look back around the corner and a certain confused dread settled in. This was real.
When he tapped on the man’s shoulder, the woman gasped, and the man, turning and seeing Lucilius jolted, and then laughed.
“Geez, give a brother a little warning,” the man said before chuckling.
“I didn’t know you had a twin?” The woman said.
The doppelgänger before Lucilius looked a little uneasy. “Hey, can’t blame this guy for looking so good. Give me a second darling.”
Lucilius followed his own likeness into the back of the restaurant, through the kitchen and into the back alley. He watched as the man shuffled a pack of cigarettes, lit one and offered to Lucilius. He just shook his head, still in shock about what he was seeing.
“Which one are you?”
“What?” Lucilius said.
His doppelgänger gave him a strange and strained look. “You look confused.”
“You could say that.”
“You mean to say you’ve never….” The doppelgänger motioned a hand between the two of them. “Seen one of us?”
“Not without a mirror.”
“Wow, well, ok.” The doppelgänger looked off into space for a moment and then chuckled.
“You know what’s going on? Are we twins?”
The guy laughed, “No, no, we’re not twins… well, not like that.” He looked at Lucilius with a mixture of pity and envy. “We’re clones.”
“That’s impossible, I have a family, parents.”
“No you don’t, your memory of them was placed there, your timeline -your life- picks up right after the second funeral, just like mine.”
The two were quiet for a moment as Lucilius thought about the possibility that this information could be a reality. HIs doppelgänger dragged his cigarette and watched thoughts click together on Lucilius’ face.
“You’re telling me I’m five years old?”
The doppelgänger wagged his head a little. “Four and some months, but yea, pretty much.”
“How do you know about all this?”
“Same deal as you, another clone told me.”
“How many are there?”
“Oh, just a few, maybe half a dozen.”
“Who’s the original?”
The clone was taken aback, surprised. “You know, I’d never thought about the original. Weird.”
Lucilius asked more questions, but the clone didn’t know too much more, only some details about the lives of the other clones he’d met, but from what Lucilius could tell, this clone hadn’t looked into the issue too much and had simply gone on living his life. He asked for the clone’s contact information, but the clone refused, saying it would probably be best if they just steered clear of one another, to try and just forget about it. The clone wouldn’t even tell Lucilius his name.
It took several months of research before Lucilius found another clone. Then another popped up. He travelled to meet with each, trying to find out where or what their origin was. One other clone had tried and failed to figure out where they had come from, getting too busy with getting on with life.
After nearly a year of searching, Lucilius found himself pressing a buzzer at the entrance of a run down apartment building. No one answered and it turned out the door was still slightly ajar. Lucilius pulled it open and walked down a flight of stairs to the basement units. The dim fluorescent light flickered, the exposed bulbs dark at their ends, the hastily cleaned remnants of a shattered one still embedded in the dirty carpet. Lucilius found the unit he was looking for and knocked on the door, and it moved, never fully closed. Lucilius pushed the door wider into the dark apartment, and he quietly stepped in.The dull drone of a TV wafted in from a different room. The place was a wreck of piled garbage, the smell of rotted food overpowered only by a stench of alcohol.
Bathed in the flicker and glow of the TV was another clone. Lucilius stood there, taking in the sad sight - a vision of himself, overweight and lost to an oblivion. A clutter of empty bottles around the couch, and a corresponding film below the lip, a moistened beard.
Lucilius nudged the man’s foot with his own. The man did not even stir. Lucilius sighed, and walked into another room, returning a few minutes later with a bucket of water, which he then dumped over the man, who instantly awoke, screaming through a blur of confusion and bleary eyes. When he finally settled and saw Lucilius before him, the man’s face grew sad, his neck growing limp till he was sobbing into his own hands, muttering disconnected words:
“…stop haunting me..”
Lucilius was confused, and suddenly felt remorse. It only occurred to him now the obvious truth: what terrible things must have happened to him - to anyone - to create the situation he now looked on.
Lucilius knelt and put a hand on the man’s shoulder.
“What do you mean, haunt?”
The man’s sobbing slowed, and when he finally looked at Lucilius it was with disdain.
“Do you know what it feels like to look at you?”
“What do you mean?” Lucilius asked.
The man laughed. “Do you envy me?” He said, spreading his flabby, bloated arms, motioning about the wrecked hovel. Lucilius looked around with him. “Imagine what it feels like to look at you, in your nice clothes, your perfect skin, fit as a freaking fiddle, and I bet you’ve built quite a nice life for yourself in the last few years. Imagine what it’s like to know you’re walking around - you and the others..”
“You are the original,” Lucilius stated, asking. But the man didn’t acknowledge, only looked off askance, holding in a torrent of emotion.
“What happened?” Lucilius asked. “We’re you tested on? Who did this?”
“Ha!” The man sneered. “I don’t know if that would add sting or lessen it…. No. The research was mine. All mine. I created all of you from scratch.”
“But what happened? Why don’t I remember anything, and how did you end up like this?”
The man sighed. “A clone is a perfect copy until the moment it starts to experience life. Then the divergence is absolute. Seems negligible,” the man said, looking at Lucilius with raised eyebrows, before they darkened again and he looked off, “… but it’s profound. So many things like that, subtle and profound. It’s always the smallest things that end up creating the biggest effect…” The man trailed off into silence, an unknown past torturing the man like an invisible vision.
“So what happened?”
The man looked back at Lucilius, the reverie broken. He grabbed Lucilius’ hands and looked at them like a palm-reader, then grunted.
“How’s the company going?” He asked without looking up.
“Your company? How’s it going?”
“It’s… going well,” Lucilius said. “I took some time off to find you, but it’s on track to IPO sometime next year we’re thinking.”
The man laughed, a faint smile wearing his lips with nostalgic amusement. “That’s good,” he said, shaking his head gently. “That’s good.”
“I don’t understand. How did you know that? What happened?”
The man sighed again and looking at Lucilius he wore pity in his face as if wondering whether he should continue on or not. But Lucilius had come this far, and the man knew - Lucilius knew himself well enough to know he would not stop.
“I created you to handle that company. I couldn’t trust anyone else with that project - bioinformatics is so delicate, sensitive, and if I didn’t do it myself, someone else was going to try it and it could be a catastrophe in the wrong hands. So I created you.”
Memory suddenly collapsed in Lucilius’ mind as endless nights from the past few years flickered through his mind when he agonized over correct protocols and an elaborate system to protect the mass amount of bio-data his company held from falling into the wrong hands or the wrong use cases. His eyes grew wide as he looked back at the man who wore his own face.
The man was nodding. “I trust you’ve done well. Not just for yourself, but that you’ve carefully thought through it all, to make sure humanity doesn’t get this one wrong.”
A snarl of confusion and anger rose in Lucilius. “You couldn’t do it yourself?”
The man laughed for a moment. “Think of all the ideas you’ve had through the years. Almost all of the important ones are being carried out. By us.”
Lucilius stood, and unconsciously he started wandering around the room, suddenly lost in deep thought. Until a question cleaved his rumination.
“Wait. There have to be initial differences,” he said, looking back at the Original.
The Original nodded, and sighed. “Ethically ambiguous, but yes. You are missing only one small memory. Every clone but one is missing the same small memory.”
Lucilius’ eyes narrowed. “Tell me.”
The Original grew weary and nervous. He hadn’t thought this through. But he was in too deep now. He sighed, and then struggled to get up, pushing his knees down as his neglected body struggled. He shuffled to a wall where hung a framed sketch of a woman’s hands. The Original pulled the edge and the armed piece opened like a door, revealing a safe embedded into the wall. The Original spun the nob this way and that, and then cranked the handle and opened the safe. The thing was practically empty, save for a small, crumpled piece of paper. The Original took it and proffered it to Lucilius.
Lucilius took it and saw it was a receipt for coffee, until he turned it over. There was a phone number, scrawled, and underneath it, a hastily drawn heart.
A smile lifted a side of Lucilius’ face. “Oh yea..” He said, remembering, “..she was so beautifu—”
Lucilius looked up at the Original, his eyes narrowing. “I lost this,” he said, holding up the piece of paper.
The Original shook his head. “No you didn’t. I made you forget where it was. I literally made you without the memory of where you put it, and of course, I had it for myself.”
“But..” Lucilius contemplated it all, trying to fit it together. “Who is she?” Suddenly confused. “What’s she got to do with this?”
The Original sighed. “She and I became very close. Very close, and you see the problem is there’s only one of her. Us? Sure, it was worth it. My ideas are coming to life - our ideas, for the greater good. And you -YOU- can’t miss what you don’t know you missed out on.”
Lucilius looked at the piece of paper. “What happens if I dial this number?”
“Heh,” The Original laughed. “And what are you going to say? You have any idea how long it’s been, and what’s happened since? You still don’t know how any of this happened..” The Original motioned at himself and the apartment as he said it. “What are you going to do? Try and explain all this? Ruin her life, and the life of the other one?”
“The other one?”
The Original just looked at Lucilius with a resigned face.
“You didn’t…” Lucilius said, shaking his head. “She’s with a clone of us? Of you?”
“It was the only way.”
“Oh really, how’s that?” Lucilius snapped back.
“My work was not done! You were not created, the company you’ve created, and all the other projects that your brothers are carrying out, all of it was at risk with her in the picture!” The Original was practically screaming, the sadness and determination combining like a new toxin. “Setting up all of your different lives, inserting each of you perfectly, flawlessly, do you know how difficult all that was?”
“Where are they?”
“Doesn’t matter. You’ll drive yourself mad if you find them, if you see her with him. All that matters is that they are having those experiences, that those experiences exist.”
How could Lucilius not believe him? Like a person wrecked by a drug warning someone else to never take it. Lucilius looked at the old receipt paper in his hand, and wondered about what he did not know, wondering about what he never experienced. He tried to imagine some kind of far-off happiness, and strained to remember that woman’s face, but it was a useless task. What a strange comfort to know that somewhere out there, a form of himself was happy in a way he could not even fathom.
He looked at the Original who had slumped back down on the couch, his face frozen in memory, of an experience relinquished, the water of his eyes glistening in the low light of the dingy apartment.
“Come on,” Lucilius said.
The Original looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“The company is doing just fine. I think I’ve done my part, and it’s time I take care of myself,” Lucilius said. It took a moment for the Original to realize what Lucilius said, and when he looked back at him, Lucilius winked.
“Come on, let’s get you out of this dump. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s how to get your sorry ass back on your feet.