Short Story: The Hero Will Not Be Automatic

This story was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Contest for this week, Ten More Titles. I chose “The Hero Will Not Be Automatic” as my title.


Trial #1

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot responded to the stimulus (gunshot) by scanning for open wounds. Locating the bullet wound in the patient’s chest, the robot’s processors directed it to perform emergency surgery. The patient did not survive.

Comments: Chest wounds should not be operated on in the field. Coding should be adjusted to take into account this situation.


Trial #2

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot’s response time (between the gunshot stimulus and wound recognition) is down to 2.5 seconds. The gunshot was in the leg this time. The robot followed the new coding advice and dragged the patient out of the field while initiating emergency distress calls. Being dragged through shrapnel increased the patient’s wounds; the robot then deemed amputation necessary. Patient is alive but unable to walk.

Comments: The leg is different from the chest—can we get a coder who has taken anatomy?!?!


Trial #5

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: Robot is now able to adjust response based on location of gunshot.

Comments: Perhaps amputation should not be such a knee-jerk reaction in the coding.


Trial #12

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: Battlefield risks have been added to the testing environment. Robot took three gunshots while dragging the patient to the medical tents and was unable to reach its destination.

Comments: Could this thing dodge bullets?


Trial #13

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot’s new reinforced shell was able to sustain five bullet wounds without loss of operating capacity exceeding 35%. Patient was brought to a sheltered environment and a tourniquet was administered.

Comments: Robot’s response times to administrator commands were slower after the battle ended and the robot was retrieved.


Trial #15

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot refused to respond to gunshot stimuli. Upon hearing the beginning of the “battle,” the robot’s processors entered forced hibernation mode. The patient received four bullet wounds and died while the robot stayed frozen.

Comments: Did you code this?


Trial #16

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot shut down after being exposed to the battlefield setting. No stimulus other than location was involved. Technicians could not reboot the robot until it had been brought out of the battlefield and let to sit for two hours.

Comments: Fix this. Now.


Trial #17

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The self-preservation process has successfully been destroyed. Unfortunately, the robot has lost its risk-processing abilities. Though scans and records indicated a 75% chance that the battlefield contained landmines in the immediate area, the robot dragged its patient across them anyway.

Comments: I hope you backed up your files.


Trial #21

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot is unable to perform basic functions. Having dragged its patient within two feet of a land mine, the robot suddenly shut down. The patient received two gunshots—one to the leg and one to the stomach—before the robot rebooted and finished dragging the patient to the medical tent. Before the doctors could take the patient, the robot amputated its leg.

Comments: I thought you had fixed the amputation tendencies.


Trial #30-36

Lab tech: Jess K.

Observations: The robot’s response to stimuli is erratic. The sound of gunshots will force a shut down, then a rapid reboot. Land mines are sometimes run over in a frenzy to escape the battlefield. Sometimes just the threat of a landmine will keep the robot from moving, even to reach the patient. Sustaining gunshots to its shell will sometimes cause the robot to hibernate, sometimes to operate suddenly on the patient, sometimes to override system controls and attack the other field agents. Even outside of the battlefield, the robot will sometimes short-circuit, initiate worst-case-scenario self-destruction, or shut down. No coding method seems to be able to fix these problems.

Comments: This project is a bust.


The Automatic Hero Project was discontinued on February 4. All records will be archived, pending review.

Flash Fiction: Forest of Monsters

Hey everyone! This piece of Flash Fiction was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge for this week, in which we were supposed to choose a random  Flickr photo to serve as inspiration for a story. I chose a picture of redwoods.

The characters and set-up are related to another Flash Fiction story I wrote a few months ago. This story takes place before the other one, and you really don’t have to have read the other one for this one to make sense. I’m just having fun developing different snapshots of these characters and their world.

Hope you enjoy!


 

Anyone who has tried to tell you that the forest floor is made soft by the layers of moss and decomposing leaves is a liar.

Or maybe they just never had the enlightening experience of being thrown into the ground by a guy twice their size.

We shouldn’t judge people for their ignorance. Trevor always says that.

Trevor also talks about monsters no one else can see. We’ve all had practice not judging.

For a second, I stare up at the forest above me, letting the details of the fight drift away. The forest is sways gently above me, detached from my pain, beautiful, almost…magical. An arboreal siren.

I blink and the illusion is gone, leaving only a weary tightness in my gut.

Groaning, I ask, “Was that really necessary?”

Jack’s mouth twitches in a cocky smile. “I always forget what a lightweight you are.”

I make a halfhearted attempt to bruise his shins. “You? Forget I’m bad at fighting? How could you, when it’s all you ever talk to me about?”

He pulls me to my feet. “No, I mean, you are literally a light weight. I usually need that much force to down the other guys out here—with you, I guess it was kind of superfluous.”

The other guys. I’m still chewing on those words when he asks, “Ready to head back?”

I shake my head. “Trevor’s gonna kill me if I don’t start clocking more hours out here.”

And it doesn’t hurt that Jack is head of combat training for Society members under eighteen. Jack, whose smile makes my stomach execute gymnastics my muscles can barely dream of. Jack, who had the body—and attitude—of a superhero. Jack who uses words like superfluous.

Jack, who I’d been nursing a stupid, pointless, ridiculous crush on for two years now.

Jack, who thinks of me as one of the guys.

I do hang out with a lot of guys, but it’s not like I have a choice. I’m one of the only girls Trevor allowed to join the Society. (I’ve pointed out the sexism, believe me.) But my dad was Trevor’s best friend since high school, and when Trevor asked him to sell his house and move to the middle of freaking nowhere so the two of them could hunt monsters, my dad said yes, as long as his daughter could come.

If it sounds like we’re a cult, we probably are. I’ve been here for three years and I can’t shake the feeling that we’re the kind of people the rest of the world laughs at.

I’d laugh too, if I couldn’t see the bodies.

“Are we going to fight or what?” I ask.

His foot flies at my head. I duck, years of training inelegantly shoving me out of the way. Before I can catch my balance, I throw myself the other direction, a desperate attempt to get out of the way of his fist.

I make it, but not with my dignity.

God, I’m bad at this.

Stay focused. Let your senses take over. Pay attention. Anticipate. Take charge, don’t just react.

Three teacher’s worth of advice floods through my mind. Dad, Trevor, and Jack have all tried.

None of it matters. My body doesn’t do this.

I try for a kick of my own, but it misses by a comical degree. Jack is already twirling toward me, throwing a fist into my jaw. I block it and try to return the favor, but he playfully backpedals, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “That all you got?”

If I were a character in a book, this would be the moment I get angry. My anger would crystallize the world around me; I’d suddenly know where Jack’s kicks and punches were going before did. For once, Jack would be the one on the ground, gasping for air.

Instead, I just feel tired. I want back to the libraries and the labs, where I don’t fall on my face, where I can actually hold my own. A horrible, secret part of me wants back to the real world, where monsters are just something children talk about.

Jack’s coming at me again, but I don’t do more than dodge. The sorry answer to his question is yes, this might be all I’ve got. I’m just not the guerilla fighter that I was supposed to become.

For a while, I trained because I believed the picture Dad painted: Becca 2.0. Becca: Badass Edition.

Now I train out of a mild sense of duty to my father’s memory and to keep Trevor off my case.

Boom.

Jack’s foot catches my shoulder and I fly backwards, my elbows slamming into discarded bark, my tailbone crashing into the packed earth.

Hands on his thighs, Jack leans over me, breathing heavy. “You weren’t even trying that time.”

“I was distracted,” I say, waving him out of my eye line. I like the forest more than I like him right now.

“Yeah, by what?” Jack asks, but I barely hear him. The forest calls me, dancing around my consciousness.

Something flickers at the edge of my vision, blackness and sparkles in one. My gut heaves and my ears ring, but I can’t tear my eyes away. I can’t even close them, I realize as tears burn in their corners.

“Becca,” Jack yells, yanking me backward.

It breaks the spell. I roll onto my knees and dry heave.

“What happened?”

I drag my hand across my mouth and fall back onto my heels, defeated. No matter what arguments I’ve made, Trevor is right. I need to be here. The Society needs me just as much as it needed my dad.

“There’s a dead body in that tree.”

Jack turns to look, even though we both know he won’t see it. Trevor gets to see the monsters, I get to see their victims.

I can never decide which one of us has it worse.

Short Story: Sticking It to the Man

To say this wasn’t her dream job was to put it lightly.

Abigail was supposed to be a fashion designer in Paris, hanging out in cafes with all of her gorgeous models and smiling demurely at young men in scarves, making them wonder what made her so special. She belonged in the city of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the best fashion houses in the world.

Ending up in the backroom of a sewing repair and equipment shop was not the plan. Returning to her home town of Boring Ass, California, after four brutal years of fashion design classes was not the plan.

Reality, however, wasn’t playing along with her dreams. In fact, it seemed determined to crush them.

There were no elegant men to flirt with, only the jocks and geeks that she hadn’t wanted anything to do with even in high school. The only café was the local Starbucks, packed with noisy students who naively championed collaboration as an excuse for a social hour. There were no fashion houses, only George’s Sewing Notions and Repair, Family Owned Since 1972.

And instead of designing avant guarde gowns for Parisian runways, Abigail was stuck cleaning neglected sewing machines, explaining the difference between ballpoint and jersey needles, and trying to convince novices that bridesmaid dresses and Halloween costumes were not one-day projects, even for the best. The only interesting task she got to do—the only task that in any way validated her college degree—was building the shop’s specialty: custom dress forms.

At least the shop didn’t service vacuum cleaners. Abigail probably would have gauged her eyes out if she had to stoop that low.

Building dress forms was the calmest part of the day. It got Abigail out of the main room, away from the clutter and clatter that was the retail business. The sewing required was not the type she had imagined herself dedicating hours to, but it used a needle and thread, and at the end of it, she’d created something. Most of the time, that was enough to keep her self-destructive thoughts at bay.

Then came the day when Susan Baker ran into her in the street and sneered at the high-minded girl with the nerve to think she was better than the rest of them, and laughed at her inevitable return to the gutters.

Abigail was back in high school, clutching brochures for fashion colleges on the other side of the country, trying to get her guidance counselor to help her with her applications, trying to keep Susan and her clique from seeing the logos. The insecurity and bitterness that Abigail had shoved away for so long came rushing back, but four years of college had changed her—even if Susan couldn’t see it.

She didn’t cower or hide from Susan’s abuse.

She just brushed past the lip-glossed bully, cutting a piece of her cheaply dyed hair with the tiny sewing scissors she always carried in her pocket.

Susan never noticed. Abigail, deciding she could go without another cup of coffee, headed back to George’s, straight for the back room.

Abigail’s roommate, Cassy, had been from New Orleans, an eclectic girl from an entrenched family that had thrown at fit when their youngest daughter left the city in favor of the Big Apple. But Cassy hadn’t left her heritage entirely behind, or it hadn’t let her escape. After two semesters of prickling sensations on the back of her neck and shadows flickering in the corner of her eyes—and after a night of drinking that shut up common sense—Abigail worked up the courage to ask her friend just what exactly her family business was supposed to be.

Abigail had promised to keep Cassy’s gifts a secret—but she didn’t have to tell anyone about slipping Susan’s hair into the stuffing of her latest project and muttering a few ancient chants under her breath. No one would know—no oath was broken—except for Susan, the first time someone stuck a pin in the dress form, and Abigail, who would smile whenever she imagined it.

Tossing and turning in bed that night, Abigail didn’t relish in her victory. She couldn’t shake a memory of Susan crying in the junior high girl’s bathroom when her dog died. Red-eyed and regretful, she hurried into work that morning only to discover the dress form had already been boxed and shipped.

She puked in the bathroom and swore to never do it again.

She kept her promise for six whole months, until Chad Walker got one two many beers in him and ruined Abigail’s night off. He left the bar woozy and rejected. She left the bar feeling violated, with a clump of his beard in her pocket.

George’s rarely received orders for male dress forms, so she held onto the tangle of hair until one showed up. It took two weeks, and by the time she tucked the sample between her stiches, Abigail had made up her mind. It was premeditated. It was just, she told herself, ignoring her clenching stomach.

A month later Ella Kwong yelled at her child in the supermarket. Her daughter was sobbing so loudly that Ella never noticed the faint snip of Abigail’s scissors. Two weeks passed before Abigail gave in to the temptation of her scissors, punishing Father Washington for his hypocritical sermon against adultery, when it was common knowledge that he was not faithful to his wife.

More and more dress forms were sent across the country with custom measurements and secret punishments. Abigail swayed between the heady sensation of power and the sickening fear of her own immoral character. She was the Hand of Justice, the righter of wrongs, she assured herself.

She was the devil on earth, prideful enough to think herself separate from the complexities of human ethics, her conscience whispered back.

A year and a half after that doomed encounter with Susan Baker, Abigail read the story in the newspaper: Local Woman Commits Suicide After Bouts of Inexplicable Pain. She read half of the article before she stopped, the words blurring in front of her eyes. Rushing to the bathroom, she threw up the breakfast she had managed to eat, and called in sick to work.

The town was gray with mourning. Abigail could not go outside without making eye contact with a former classmate of hers and Susan’s. She would flinch and dash away, back to her house, away from the penetrating gazes that surely, surely could see the evil corrupting her soul.

Did she even have a soul left to corrupt?

Yes, she realized, shoving away another plate of food and closing her blinds tighter. If she lacked a soul, surely this would not hurt the way it did.

When she showed up to work a week later, her manager was shocked at how pale and gaunt her face was. Abigail avoided crowds and started at loud noises; she wouldn’t look anyone in the face. Her manager pitied the young woman for the obvious toll her grief had taken on her spirit and offered to give Abigail another week off to recover. With a look of horror, Abigail refused, rushing to the back room and grabbing the stack of orders from which to choose her next project.

Even in the backroom, the chitchat of the shop reached Abigail’s tortured ears. All anyone was talking about was Susan’s death. Some raged at incompetent doctors; others reduced her to an attention-whore with mild aches. One of the town’s grandmothers was certain that Susan had arthritis, while a young grad student swore that the pain was the psychosomatic result of some trauma received earlier in life.

Was it possible?

Could Susan have died from something other than Abigail’s vengefulness? Could Cassy’s magic be nothing more than the grimmest of fairy tales?

There was one way to find out, only one way to give Abigail what she deserved if she had actually caused the death of her former classmate.

Before she could think about her actions, Abigail reached behind her head and clipped a snippet of her hair. The dress form she build around the cutting was her fastest project to date. It shipped that night, and Abigail lay in bed, unable to sleep under the threat of self-inflicted pain.

She must have fallen asleep at some point in the early morning, her guilt-ravaged body taking refuge in sleep long into the afternoon. Possibly, Abigail would have slept forever had she not been awakened by a sudden stabbing pain.

Jolting awake with a scream, Abigail got her answer.


Whew! I haven’t written a short story in a while, but I’ve been playing around with this idea for a few weeks now and I decided to go for it. Hope you enjoyed! (It isn’t my favorite thing that I’ve ever written, but I like the mood I created.)

A special thanks to my sister for teaching me about this sewing lingo (or forcing me to learn it by being in the same house as her sewing exploits) and for letting me take the dramatic picture of her dress form featured in this post. You can check out her sewing blog here.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Just Another Dead Guy

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge for this week is simple:

I want you to take your story and it must begin with a dead body. That’s it. That’s the only stipulation. In the first paragraph you must introduce a dead body. Doesn’t matter the context or the genre. But you gotta check that box marked

[ ] DEAD BODY.

Here’s my somewhat random response. Hope you enjoy 🙂


I found the body by tripping over it.

In my defense, it was six in the morning. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and I hadn’t had my coffee yet. I hadn’t even gone to the bathroom yet, because the corpse was lying on its stomach in front of my bedroom door.

It was while I was sprawled on the ground, blood slowly soaking into my pajamas, my ankle aching, that things started making sense. The coffee pot was gurgling downstairs and my house smelled like cinnamon rolls. The radio was on, volume just low enough that I couldn’t tell what they were talking about.

“Good morning to you to,” I muttered as I limped into the kitchen, not surprised to find Jack sitting at my counter. I turned my radio off and turned to look at the one person who had dared to intrude into my new life. He was wearing dark jeans and a black shirt, no sign of his hunting gear except for a knife peaking out of his hiking boot.

He took in my blood-splattered shirt and laughed. “What, did you trip over him?”

“I wasn’t wearing my glasses,” I said, pouring myself a cup of coffee, not bothering with sugar or milk. I needed to wake up. I glanced at Jack, who had moved on to smirking at my bed head. I should have brushed my hair.

“You’re not blind without them, right? You can still see large male bodies strewn across your landing.”

“I wasn’t exactly expecting it to be there,” I snapped. “When will the cinnamon rolls be done?”

He waved off my impatience with a vague motion. “You don’t want to know who he is?”

I glared at him. “You’re like the cat I never had. Bringing me godforsaken dead things in the middle of the night—”

“I didn’t kill him.”

I paused, but I refused to get sucked into his world again. “That’s new. Did you finally go to that therapist I told you about?”

He ignored my comment. “I was going to kill him. But someone got there first.”

I rubbed my temples, wondering how Jack was this alert when the sun hadn’t even graced us with its presence. “So you brought him to my house?”

“You don’t have to be snippy. I also brought breakfast.”

“Right, and my appetite is simply whetted by the corpse upstairs.”

My sarcasm was finally getting to Jack. I watched his face change, the tease in his eyes replaced by a tight clench in his jaw. “You really didn’t see it?”

“See what?” I asked, cracking the oven open to peak at my breakfast.

Jack was at a loss for words, somewhere I’d never seen him. “The body—I thought—you really didn’t see anything?”

“It’s six AM, I wasn’t exactly giving the guy an autopsy.”

He just stared at me as everything slowly clicked into place. All the stories, all the rumors. He hadn’t believed them, apparently. Idiot.

Lost, he glanced around my kitchen, taking in the normalcy of it. No specially carved blades in my knife rack, no protective potions in my spice collection. It was the house of a normal college graduate who couldn’t get a job with her major—though few people had quite as niche of a major as mine.

“You really left,” he says, almost a question.

Anger I hadn’t let myself feel for half a year came back with a vengeance, stronger after the aging process. “I think that’s what I meant six months ago when I said, ‘I’m leaving.’”

Jack’s silence was broken by my timer going off. I slapped it to shut it up and took the baking pan out of the oven.

“Things are getting bad back at home,” Jack said. “That guy upstairs—I just thought, if you saw him, if you knew what got to him, you’d come back.”

“Sorry, Jack,” I said. “He’s just another dead guy to me.”

Flash Fiction: The Spoiled Child

I wrote this for this week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge: write a story in 100 words. My story clocks in at 97 words. Hope you enjoy!

 

The child loves to play with bubbles.

She toddles after them, lunging and stumbling, popping them with inexact claps of pudgy hands. Giggling as a faint mist bursts across her skin, then a race to the next bubble.

Her parents pamper their daughter with the game. Relatives warn that the child is being spoiled, corrupted; the exercise in destruction should not continue.

But the parents are blinded by the light of their child’s smile. They will ignore eons of wisdom to hear her laugh.

Even though each bubble is a universe.

And gods really should know better.

Short Story: Desert Gods

I wrote this for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Contest this week (Ten Random Sentences). I chose this sentence for inspiration:

The river stole the gods.

It’s just around 900 words. Hope you enjoy!

click to see this cloak on my sister's sewing blog :)
click to see this cloak on my sister’s sewing blog 🙂

Their land was a desert, so they prayed to their gods to bring water, for plants to grow, for animals to come out of hiding places between rocks so that they could spear them and eat. One more meal, one more oasis, one more night watching the stars and trying not to freeze.

That was all they asked.

Ada knew that it had not always been like this. The land used to be fertile, so many generations before her own that even the stories that told of it were eroding from the wear and tear of being passed down. There were old gods, old in the way that their people had lived enough years without needing their assistance that they forgotten how to call their names.

When Ada was younger, she would sulk in the shadows cast by the elders’ fire. One night she had heard them saying names she’d never heard them say when the rest of the tribe was around. It was only years later, when she understood that the springs had been rising past their normal levels and that the water tasted unfamiliar, that Ada understood that they were names of old gods, whose knowledge and guidance couldn’t be provided by their current deities.

The world was changing, away from the stories and gods Ada’s tribe currently held and prayed to, and if you hear the right whispers, toward the older times, and the older gods.

But as long as the change happened slowly, and the whispers were quiet, the only person who noticed was the girl who grew up learning to dance invisibly in the shadows while the rest of her generation danced like fire.

* * *

Desert people pray for water and consider their prayers answered with sudden summer rainstorms and shady oases after long days of travel.

When their gods’ answer is floods, new gods and new prayers are needed to survive.

The storm clouds came and everyone expected them to give a day of rain before they burned off in the summer heat. That second day saw rain was unusual.

On the third day their tents’ simple waterproofing with animal fat was not enough to hold off the storm. By the end of the first week, the tribe’s tents sat on the bank of a river, and by the end of the month Ada forgot what it was like for her skin to be anything but wet. And still it rained, and the river next to the camp widened, threatening to swallow them whole.

The river stole the gods.

A month and a half into the storm, one of the elders came out of his tent wearing a black robe no one had seen—no one’s grandparent’s had seen—and spoke of gods that could save their people.

The elders brought back the old gods and tossed aside their current deities. They were the leaders of the tribe and it was their job to save their people, and you pray to the god who will deliver you from harm, not the one that brings harm.

It was war. Some people would not abandon the gods that had watched over them, that had brought them safety and love and shelter. Others blamed their neighbor’s piety for the continuing storm: you do not pray to the god of water when your world is flooding.

After two months, the rain stopped. Summer’s heat had faded and the sun did not have the strength to suck dry the ground the way it once could. The river had stolen soil from other lands and brought it to Ada’s tribe. The sand of their homeland was now soil.

Green, bright fertile green—a color as foreign as another language to the desert people—appeared. Grasses, flowers, bushes with berries. Stories of the forgotten times from before the desert became their only hope of survival. Which plants are edible, which ones are poisonous?

And still it was war. For if the rain has stopped, then the people who were praying for water were clearly kneeling at the wrong altar. But never before had their been a concept of a “wrong altar,” or that their could be right gods and wrong gods. Difference of religion appeared in a world that had never before considered religion to be anything but a fact.

Hiding in the shadows, Ada heard the whispers, of war between dueling gods and humans as chess pieces. Of right and wrong on a cosmic scale. Of dying to be right or killing those who are wrong.

And she couldn’t help but wonder if the conflict was completely imaginary, made up by a scared and confused people whose world had changed without giving them a warning or a solution. Years ago the land had dried up, and some gods faded and others came to the forefront, and the elders did not pass on a fear of the old gods in the face of new ones. Surely the chance was not a sign of disrespect or betrayal, but simple necessity. Maybe the gods knew that the world would change without them, and that some of them would be needed while others weren’t.

Probably, Ada was wrong. The rest of the children always said Ada was too nice, too quiet. She’d spent too much time in the shadows to know how the real world worked.

And anyway, the war was still going on.

 

Short Story: Entropy, Human Style

I’ve never wanted to kill someone before today.

“Hey.”

I swallow, pressing my tongue against my teeth, testing out the idea of conversation. “…Hey.”

“I’m glad we’re talking.”

I’m not. “Me, too.” I glance around the room: a metal cube, with a table and two chairs. I know there is a door behind me—locked.

“This doesn’t have to be awkward.”

God, does my nose twitch like that when I talk?

“And yet, it is.”

Her jaw swerves as she bites her tongue. “What do you want me to say?”

I bite my own tongue, a reflexive mirror. “Whatever. Just—talk.” I should have a notebook or a voice recorder or—something. But those jobs have been passed off to people and machines working outside the cube while I slowly go insane in here with her.

I can’t remember why I thought this was a good idea. Any of this. Screw fame—I want my sanity.

“I don’t remember everything yet,” she says. “But the doctors say all of it will come back over time. Probably just a few weeks more.”

“Great,” I say, tight-lipped.

“I remember the last day of second grade, when your mom bought us ice cream—mint chip, because it’s our favorite.”

“I like vanilla now,” I say.

“I know that, too.”

She plays with the tip of her hair, twisting it around her finger. “And I remember middle school graduation, when you got that plaque for Best Science Student.”

“Ironic.” My fingers itch to find my hair but I keep them firmly clasped in front of me.

“Prom night,” she jokes, winking. My insides clench, not because the memory is bad—it’s pretty fantastic—but at the idea that she knows about it.

“It’s like being twins,” she finally offers. Then a shrug and a smile, like a mix between a beaten puppy and a flirty preteen. Both of them just trying to get the right type of attention—from me.

I lean back. “No, it’s not. Twins are separate people. Twins have different dreams at night. Twins have different hobbies and have read different books. Twins have different strides and like different condiments on their burgers.”

She counters, “Twins have the same birthday. Twins have the same genes and the same home lives and the same inside jokes about chores and crushes.”

Identical twins,” I clarify. “And only if they have a good relationship and grow up together and—there are variables you haven’t considered.”

“I know.”

Variables. I’m the math/science genius and I still can’t figure all of them out.

It’s making me twitch, being in the same room with her. I can’t stop noticing every little thing she does: worry the hem of her shirt, shift her shoulders, crack only the knuckle of her index fingers.

“Can you just—stop?”

She freezes. “Stop what?”

I’m trying not to scream and I know she can tell. “Stop—being me? Can you, I don’t know, learn ballet or get a scar or go to the South and pick up an annoying accent? Just something that makes you be different?”

“That’s not the point.”

“Well, the point can fuck off, okay?” I yell.

She flinches. I want to feel guilty, but my anger shoves the rest of my emotions out of my brain and locks the doors.

“You’re not supposed to exist. You’re impossible. You’re a mistake. And just because I agreed to talk to you doesn’t mean that any of that has changed.”

Her eyes—my eyes—meet mine. “I’m the greatest thing you’ve ever done.”

“Smartest. You’re the smartest thing I’ve ever done. The most impressive. Maybe the most influential. But Prometheus stole fire and all he got for that was saying goodbye to his liver—and not in the fun, alcoholic way. Marie Curie fried her own brain so that we can make microwave pizza. Let’s ask Nobel and Oppenheimer about the most influential things they ever did, huh?

“Science doesn’t reward scientists. Achievements don’t make your own life better, no matter how happy everyone else around you is.”

She laughs. “I’d say you’ve been working on that speech for a while, but I don’t have any memory of it.”

Wow, she’s a bitch. “You don’t have to be obnoxious about it.”

“Right, because you’re a poster child for kindness.” That kills the conversation, and we sit in tense silence.

She taps her forehead. “Damn, you’re smart.”

I can almost see the memories as they flood into her mind, but I know she is past middle school moments and exes. Her eyes are slightly glazed, her mouth open the tiniest amount. It is an expression I have never worn, and I am suddenly struck by the fact that someone else—someone I can’t control—has my brain. She knows every math equation I’ve ever learned, every idea that I’ve ever had.

I’ve had a lot of bad ideas over the years.

I stare at her, really look at her.

She’s me. We’ve got the same eyes, the same hair, the same crooked front tooth and mole just above our lip. She’s my height and weight. We’ve got the same fingerprints and the same genes. She remembers the same life that I remember. The only difference is our ages.

I’m twenty-five years old. She’s been alive for barely one week.

She’s my ticket into every science journal, every prestigious conference, every history book in the world. She’s a Nobel Prize taunting me with memories of elementary school.

She’s the world’s most successful clone—pushing past gene replication to factor in life chronology and outside influences—and it’s my own romantic, dumbass fault that she’s…me.

“Why do you hate me?” she asks, leaning in. “I’m you. I have your head. And I know you don’t hate yourself.”

What makes a person themselves? Memories—she has mine. Genes—ditto.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

We were only clones for one second

And then she existed and I existed, separately, and both of our selves branched out from there and we’ll never come back to where we started. Entropy—human style. A study of human identity locked in a box—is she me, or someone else?

Ask Schrodinger.

The history of the world is the development of weapons: rocks to spears to bows and arrows to cannons to guns to tanks to missiles to the A-bomb to chemical warfare to this—putting someone in a box with themselves and watching them slowly rip each other apart.