She was hungover again that Wednesday, so I’d had to go in to work for her. She hadn’t been to the office for almost a month now, telling me she still needed some “well-deserved” time off. She’d only had the job for six months. So far on her time off all she’d done was stare at her phone, watch the tele and get drunk. She’d used her trust fund from her parents to pay for me; a Doppel. A clone that could perform tasks for her and also take her place in public without anyone noticing; identical in every way apart from a small metal device in the wrist, called the Experience Tracker. Originally created as a way to double productivity, or to allow someone to work 80-hour weeks, Rhian thought it best to let her Doppel (Me) be the productive one so she didn’t have to. Though she didn’t treat me like a slave, she did use me to make her life far more comfortable that she deserved.
When I got home, she was dozing on the sofa, a flannel on her head and a bowl on the floor. She heard the door and registered me with a look before closing her eyes again. I hung up our coat and put our shoes away before going through to the kitchen to get my preprepared Nutri-shake. “Doppel,” She asked me in a stickily, pleading voice.
“Original.” I responded freezing in my tracks, with a feeling of dread in my chest.
“I need you to do something for me tonight.” I sighed. Originals seemed to forget that whilst, yes we were clones of them and we were created for their service, we too got tired and needed rest like they did. I longed for my cryo-pod. “I’m still feeling so rough and I totally forgot I was supposed to go on a date with Brad.” I looked down on her puzzled and she blinked black lashes at me.
Rhian had short blonde hair and bright brown eyes, though today they were dull from too much sleep and drink. She was also a few sizes larger than me, partially because she had been living on nothing but junk food and barely moved from the sofa for a month, whereas I was forced to drink a tasteless “Nutri-shake” that sustained my exact nutritional needs and no more. It was too expensive to feed a Doppel proper food. “Why not cancel?” I asked her and she pulled a face like she’d bitten down on a sour sweet, “Because CBA? I’d feel bad too. He’s a nice enough guy. I mean I don’t “Like” him, but I said I’d go for dinner. You go, humour him. If you go you can even eat the food. How long has it been since you’ve tried real food?”
She tempted me with that one and I decided that I could forgo a bit of rest for a chance at real food. “A long time original.”
“So you’ll go then?”
“You’re a life saver!” She looked relieved. I was excited.
“What do you want me to wear?” She smiled in a sweet way that didn’t spread to her dark-rimmed eyes. “Take your pick.”
“Do you want me to sleep with him?”
She thought about it, then pulled a face and shook her head. “Nah, I can’t deal with the drama. Maybe kiss him if he leans in.” I nodded. “Cool. Thanks Dop.” She took out her phone and pinged the address of the restaurant and a picture of Brad to my Experience Tracker. It functioned much like a smart phone, only with far less features and fitted with to both a movement tracker and a recorder to record all a Doppel went through in an original’s absence.
“What time should I be back?” I asked as I dismissed the picture from where it showed on my palm. She groaned and waved her hand dismissively.
“I dunno. Be back in your Cryo by 11.” Another nod and I left the dirty living room to choose an outfit from the closet. I had been feeling apprehensive when she’d asked me to go out, but to taste real food… That was something I dreamed of. At least I would if the Cryo-pods allowed us to dream.
After I’d chosen an outfit, a sleek white blouse with black trousers and high heels accompanied by a small jacket, I caught a cab to the restaurant where I was meeting… Brad. That was it. I called up the picture from my tracker and made sure I’d be able to recognise his face. I saw that Rhian was watching me, by the little red marker projected on my finger. She was probably just making sure that I’d made it safely, but it made me shudder.
The Restaurant was called “Campino’s”, a narrow three-story Italian eatery with a brightly lit sign and dazzling yellow lights in vintage bulbs shining through the tall glass windows. I stepped out the cab and, after paying the fare, quickly tottered into the porch. A girl in uniform, her hair in a tight chestnut bun, smiled at me as I approached and asked if I had a reservation. “I’m here with Brad?” I said hopefully, putting on Rhian’s sweetest smile. The Waitress nodded in recognition. “He arrived just a minute ago, I’ll show you the way.” I followed the waitress between round clothed tables like river rapids till I came to a table with a man sitting at it. He had ash blonde hair with too much gel in and wore a navy-blue shirt. His face was kind with green-brown eyes and slightly wonky teeth, that added a boyish element to his smile. I liked it, but Original didn’t so…
“Hey, glad you could make it.” He said, his voice was high timbered and warm though there was something about it that I couldn’t quite work out. An artificial or false quality. Although in all honesty I wasn’t paying that much attention, I was more excited about the menu and what I saw on the table. Breadsticks. Beautifully browned, olive-oil made, golden crunchy breadsticks. I snatched one up and bit into it with a dry snap before I’d even sat down. Then I composed myself, “Sorry,” I laughed through my mouthful, “I’m starving.” My mouth watered even as I chewed, and I pulled out the chair and sat down. Brad laughed with me. “Well, if you’re making a start I might as well.” He took a breadstick too and we both shared a smile as we enjoyed them. The waitress brought us a bottle of red wine over and Brad poured a glass for each of us.
“Sorry, I didn’t even ask do you like wine?” He asked bashfully. I’d never tried it, so I shrugged.
“Time to find out.” The first drop was like strawberry fire and I almost choked on the shear cavalcade of flavour that pervaded my tongue and mouth. I could understand now my Original got through so much of it. “That’s amazing,” I whispered, a burn in my throat snatching my voice from me.
“I have to agree,” he nodded savouring the taste.
“A connoisseur, are you?” I giggled girlishly.
“Actually,” He spun the stem of the glass between his fingers, “I was a member of a wine club.” He said sheepishly as if he didn’t want me to know. Original had taught me how to feign interest when talking to men, but there was no need. I was fascinated. “You were?”
“I were.” He nodded with a cheeky smile.
“Well, why’d you stop?” He took another sip and closed his eyes.
“Because I… I….” He froze for a moment as if in deep thought.
The silence hung awkwardly, and my eyes wandered the room to try and avoid his struggling face. Suddenly he gave a deep groan and shook his head. “Urrgh I’m sorry. Look I really shouldn’t tell you this but.” He held out his wrist to reveal an Experience Tracker just like mine. “I’m a Doppel. Yes, I know it’s a dick move I totally agree. Worse than standing someone up I reckon. Just don’t tell my original I told you, you can go home and…”
“No way!” I exclaimed holding my own wrist out. His eyes widened as he saw my tracker.
“Wait you too!?” I nodded exuberantly.
“That’s right!” He spread his arms out wide then grabbed his hair.
“What the Ffff….!?” We both stared at each other for a long moment and then laughed so loud that other people turned to look at us with disapproving expressions. “So, you… you’re Original, Rhian. Stood up my Original, Brad but he was standing up you which was actually…!”
“If it wasn’t for us this table would be empty.” I said picking up my glass and taking a big swig of wine, choking on the flavour. “As you’ve been so honest, I’ll come clean with you. I’m, literally, just here for the food. I’ve not tasted anything in months apart from Nutri-shake.” Doppel-Brad gesticulated in wide eyed agreement. “I am so sick of that stuff. If it wasn’t for the canteen allowance Original gave me, I’d have eaten my own tongue.” I slammed my hands on the table.
“You get canteen money!?”
We talked about our originals for hours, ordering plates and plates of food till our stomachs hurt and out mouths ached. We were having too much fun to care about anything else, it was just a pleasure to talk with our own kind. It turned out that Brad hadn’t been into work for ages either and lived as my Rhian did, just staring at a phone while Doppel-Brad went out and earned the wage packet. Doppel-Brad also told me he thought his Original had sent him on several dates, asking for a record of each one so he could pick the one he wanted.
“So this probably wouldn’t have led anywhere after this?” Doppel-Brad shrugged.
“Probably not.” I giggled.
“Well Rhian was only going out to save face, so I guess it would have been a wasted exercise anyway.” A smile touched the corner of his lips.
“Well, it wasn’t from my angle.” Something warm moved inside me and I felt a genuine smile on my face. “No, it certainly wasn’t.”
“We are going to be in so much trouble for talking about them like this.”
“Not until we plug in.” He grinned cheekily. We clinked glasses and ordered another bottle, quite forgetting the time.
The Restaurant emptied, the lights dimmed and soon a waiter came to say that they were closing in 15 minutes. I looked down at my tracker and balked. “Shit! It’s quarter to 12!”
“Is it?” Doppel-Brad said calmly. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“I said I’d be back an hour ago!” I hissed, standing and going through Rhian’s purse to find money to pay the bill. “So what?” He whispered under his breath, reaching out and taking my hand.
“What do you mean?” I asked, frozen as my heart began to pound in my chest.
“I don’t know about you.” He began in a low voice. “But I don’t really want to go back to my Original.”
My breath came in controlled gasps. “Are you talking about… Running?” He stood up and murmured.
“Look, I know a guy. He knows how to shut down the trackers, temporarily at least. We can go somewhere, get away for a bit.”
“Get away? Go where?”
“I don’t know anywhere. Just as long as we’re together.” My heart wrenched. I wanted what he wanted, but it was impossible. “You hardly know me. Why run away with me?”
“Because all my life, if you could call it that, someone else has told me how to live it for their own sake. I want to do something for my own.” He looked me dead in the eye. “And I think you want the same.”
“But I’m a… I’m just a…”
“A what? A Doppel?” He waved his wrist at me. “Same here.” He squeezed my hand. “Look, you don’t have to. I’m just asking because the thought of never seeing you again hurts.” I regarded him for a long moment, his round boyish face, his hair with way too much gel, his smell of wine and rich food. “It hurts me too…” I whispered leaning toward him. We kissed. We kissed gently, letting the restaurant staff shuffle around us awkwardly, then pulled away. “Alright,” I threw far more money than necessary down on the table for the bill and, hand in hand, we left the waiters gaping at the cash on the table, walked out onto the street and ran.