Opia

I didn’t believe in teleportation. I didn’t believe in it so much I had to stop before the teleporter door and vomit loudly into a nearby bin, my hands pressed up against the cold wall, my back vacillating temperature. I watched the last bit of spit yoyo from my lips, swallowed away the taste, and listened for any footsteps, any alerted yells.

The building was empty except for me and the 25/7 autosecretary who was probably dozing off somewhere in the library. The emptiness made the transporter warehouse eerie, lit by red emergency lights and moonbeams through the glass ceiling. The guiding ropes for queuing had been pushed aside by the cleaning crew, the customs booths were quiet, the observation windows on the second floor dark. A lot of money had been poured here, but all of it into the practical function and technology; every corner glinted with touchpads not yet available to the public – but the walkways were grated, the railings metal, the bolts visible. Without the well-dressed people and ad screens and noise it felt a lot more like a factory, stripped of its soul and built for purpose.

I knew no one was here, but I was still reassured when the only response to my retching was silence. I wiped my mouth and pressed the touchscreen on the side of the beastly metal construction. It thrummed to life, all ugly steel and bolts except for the front, the entrance, which glowed white.

I eyed the death machine with revulsion. It ate people – people who had been brainwashed with the belief that they would somehow come out the same on the other side. Portercorp, the company with an effective monopoly on this technology and its name printed above the entrance of this building, had put out an effective message. “Total control at the atomic level!” it claimed (which wasn’t exactly true, but good enough for the media). “We zap you here and zop you there! Let the solar system be your playground!”

I had talked to many people who’d been teleported. I was a regular contract tech for Portercorp and thus had plenty of access to the wealthy – the only ones who could afford regular teleportation – or porting, as people were calling it now. I’d ask them when called upstairs to fix their abused autoassists. I’d slip it into conversation casually, like I didn’t care. They all insisted, over and over, that it was just a full body tingle and suddenly they were elsewhere. It was comfortable, convenient. No side effects. It was revolutionary. They didn’t know how they had lived without it.

I’d ask them the last time they’d been ported, and they’d say “Just this morning, straight from Florida!” And then the nascent businessman with his linen suit and full set of memories would smile perfectly and thank me for fixing their stupid autoassist and then I’d be on my way.

It was chilling. How could the deconstruction of an entire body lead to anything but death? And the person on the other side, these people I was talking to, working for – they were just a clone, an imposter, down to the atomic level, carrying the same memories. Everyone who was teleported was happily and regularly walking to their deaths and they had no idea. I didn’t care how cutely they phrased “zapping” and “zopping” – it was murder.

And I was going to prove it.

“Activate logging,” I said, and a blue light flashed a reply on the touchpad. A camera, built invisibly into the ceiling of the teleporter room, would now be recording.

“Configuration mode,” I said, the words followed by another blue light. This shifted the teleporter into the mode used for testing and calibration, where items were teleported from one space to another within the teleporter room.

A few more button presses – height, weight, liability waiver – and I was ready.

What I was about to do was illegal. Very, very illegal. It had been done in China maybe, and supposedly here too at the beginning of teleporter development, but had been outlawed due to Portercorp lobbying. This was sensible. Experiments proving murder would be bad for business.

The only reason I’d managed to surpass the safeguards at all was due to long months of slow backend modifications. Considering how strict the laws were, there had been less security than I expected – maybe because nobody thought one of us anti-porter crazies would also willingly work for Portercorp. Maybe nobody had tried this.

Maybe they had tried but gotten too nervous. I wouldn’t blame them.

I inhaled through my nose, suppressing the desire to turn and flee and become another one of those invisible cowards.

This wasn’t death. I wouldn’t be deconstructing myself.

I stepped inside.

It was a small seamless white room with rounded corners, lit evenly and ambiently. The walls weren’t reflective, so it felt nearly like I was standing in an infinite white field, sort of what I’d imagined heaven would be like right before I met God. A gentle blue line glowed in the middle of the floor, dividing the room in two. I stepped to the right of it and watched the door vanish into the wall to my left, flush and completely invisible. I knew the door was there, ready to be activated by my touch, but watching it disappear into nothing was unsettling. I slowed my breathing, felt my chest rise and fall.

Somewhere in the ceiling was the hidden camera, recording everything that was happening. I was going to show this to everyone. I had to stay calm.

The beeps started. Ten of them, warning the incoming test. I counted down under my breath.

Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

I closed my eyes and a tingle shot through my body – not like a surface chill, or goosebumps, but to my core; I could feel it in every muscle, in my organs, in my brain, like cold metal in my blood.

Zero.

I opened my eyes, and my own face stared back at me.

It was wide-eyed, nervous. It had hair imperfectly tucked into a ponytail, brown eyes, flushed cheeks, wrinkles forming against the eyes. It was so lifelike – I thought I was looking into a mirror for a moment, except there was no glass between us.

It was hard to think. I took a breath and said, “Hello, Opia.”

The clone said “Hello, Opia” at exactly the same time.

I stopped. I raised my right hand; so did my clone. We touched palms in the center in perfect symmetry. She was warm and damp and solid and surreal.

This wasn’t what I’d expected. I had imagined her to be sort of like a twin sister; something other – but those eyes were the ones I had spent my life looking out of. I felt cold-welded to her.

It was so obvious now. I was ashamed I hadn’t predicted this. She wasn’t mimicking me, there was no delay in her greeting or movement. She was acting as I was acting, spurred on by the same thoughts, the same experience. The teleporter had taken the exact arrangement of matter in my brain and replicated it perfectly in this second body. All the neurons, the synapses, would be operating in the same way. Of course she would say “Hello, Opia” at the same time.

And I realized that, at this moment, my clone would be thinking the same thing. And that my clone would have realized this realization. And that my clone would have realized this too…

I stepped back – so did my clone. “This is fucked up,” I said, and those horrible perfect electrical impulses in the clone’s brain meant that she mirrored me with no delay.

I turned around and paced – and so did the clone. I wanted to talk to her – but everything I thought was no longer original. Every time I thought of something to say, I would glance over and the clone was glancing back, obviously thinking the same thing. It felt like telepathy. “Can you hear me?” I thought at her. No, she couldn’t hear me, but the same words were echoing in her brain. The entirety of my own mind was currently being experienced by another, simultaneously, and it was absolutely overwhelming.

The issue of teleportation-death seemed pale compared to this.

I had to break the symmetry. Maybe if I didn’t think? Maybe if I just acted?

On quick intuition, as primally as I could muster, I dropped to my knees and shouted nonsense noises.

So did the clone.

I stood and pulled on my hair and stomped my foot and said “You stupid cunt.”

So did the clone.

I slapped her, she slapped me. It would have been funny if it weren’t so existentially terrifying.

A feeling of cold powerlessness came over me – had been creeping over me since the second I opened my eyes to that terrible familiar face. Before this, I had always felt as though I were making choices, unpredictable ones, as though I had control over my actions.

But, faced with myself, the control seemed shallow, built into the brain in an easily predictive fashion. My thoughts were not my own. And even as I felt this, I knew the sense of powerlessness was not my own, because I knew the clone was feeling it too – as the structure of my brain had destined her to. Every thought I had, even the thoughts about thoughts – were predetermined, predictable, because they were happening within her own mind, too. No matter how many layers deep I went, I was still there, waiting for me.

My clone was sweating, and I realized my own face was wet too.

“You aren’t real,” I whispered.

So did she, at the same time.

“You were duplicated from my body,” I said.

So did she, at the same time.

I knew if I vomited again now, so would the clone, and I didn’t want to see that, so I suppressed it.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, as my clone did the same, from the same brain, from the same emotions.

And I was sorry. Nevermind that my theory had basically been proven right, nevermind that teleportation without deconstruction of the original led to two conscious entities, so that following through with the deconstruction would be murder.

I was sorry that I had done this to myself. This was a mistake. This was a light too bright on inevitability, on the illusion of my own agency. I didn’t really believe in wrongness, but this triggered a feeling of perverseness so deep it was almost primal. In her presence I wasn’t acting, I was watching myself act. I didn’t know where it came from. In her presence I wasn’t human.

I couldn’t let her live.

The invisible door was to my left. Slowly I backed towards it. The teleporter had created her flipped around and facing me, and so she backed towards the opposite wall where she thought the door was. I felt such sorrow for her, this unintentional creation who I knew didn’t want to die. But even the sorrow was not my own, and that only drove me further.

I pressed my hand on the door, as she pressed her hand on the wall-

and the wall on her side slid away, as the wall on my side stood still.

The symmetry of our environment was broken, and thus its dictates on our behavior diverged. I stood there stunned. She slipped through the door. She met my eyes as it closed, and I understood in fullness what she was feeling, what she was, because she was me.

And then I was alone.

The teleporter started humming the tune of my execution, as I knew the original Opia was pressing the combination of buttons set to undo the monster she had created. I began shaking, with anger, but I couldn’t be angry, not really – it was all me. I knew myself too well to have any hope that she would change her mind.

The anger became fear, and the fear was so great that it turned me numb, and the shaking became crying, and somewhere in this I was struck by the absurdity that for a brief moment I had known and been known perfectly. In the face of the inevitability of my own experience there had been powerlessness and terror – but past that, and maybe because of it, there followed an awe and reflection so recursive it was almost religious, and I knew I loved her.

Of course only one of us could live. How could we go on after that!

I cried until I laughed, and I laughed until everything went away.

5 thoughts on “Opia

  1. This is wonderful! Nice first person plot twist. Thanks!
    Like all good scifi, it has an idea behind it which makes your brain bigger.
    I wonder what it would take to break the symmetry. Would it take something of the magnitude of a life changing event, like it takes singleton people to fundamentally change their ways? (Eg. near death experience, induced self awareness, trauma)
    Or would it just take a simple random seed, like a butterfly effect which sends the clone off on a new, rapidly diverging course? (Eg. leaving the room second, tripping on a obstacle flipped by your twin, getting stopped by a locking door)
    Have you read any Richard K. Morgan?

  2. Really good story, mate.
    Though ponytail-protagonist should’ve had sex with the clone before death came along.
    Once y’get past the existential part of clones, it’s really all about how much fun you can get away with 😛

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