I saw a vague slender frame behind my distorted door window, accompanied by an androgynous glass encased murmur. I could make out a neatly organised slab of light brown hair through the blurred window, there’s only one person I know with that hair, and he’s me. I tried to ignore the knocking but it got firmer and the murmurs became gradually seasoned with panic, I had to open the door at that point. I recognised everything about the person in front of me; the same medium-length stubble, occasionally highlighted by traces of sliver, same aforementioned slab of hair perpetually brushed aggressively to the right, same elongated nose-bridge punctuated by a downward facing circular tipped nose. I would say it was like looking into a mirror but it wasn’t – you’re used to seeing what’s in a mirror, this person’s face was more slender than I see mine, with a faint touch of tanning. Maybe it’s how I look and that everyone’s just so accustomed to these details the mind doesn’t register them anymore. This might be why we look different on photos. His pupils were almost the size of magnified olives. I’ve been told my eyes were big before. I’d never previously met a robot clone of myself and never spent any time pondering what I’d say to one if I did. Well that’s a lie, there was that one time I thought about it. Alright, it was two times. Ok, ok, it was quite a few times.
"So you must be one of my clones?"
"No" their voice trembled like a panicked violin "I’m your mother."
Oh these robots and their compulsion to tell bad jokes. They must’ve gotten that from me.
The clone wore a dust black, knee-length duffle coat and a bright red tartan scarf wrapped around their neck at least five times and frayed on either end. Did my mother wear these? The entire time their hand was lodged firmly into the coat pocket frantically moving in the confined realms. What looked, even when obscured, like a repetitive squeezing motion was accompanied by muted clicking. She never could lock her car properly. But could a clone know that? Would he research this much of someone’s behaviour to add depth to a practical joke? – Oh wait he’s based on me, yes he would.
A few weeks ago if you’d asked I’d have said I loved that robots had been designed to resemble me. When I told my mother she was confused.
"How do they know who you are?"
"I don’t know, they might’ve seen a picture and decided I was the perfectly generic face they needed. I’m big on social media"
"Weeeeelll not really though." Nothing like a mother’s support is there?
"Do you want something to eat?"
"I’m not hungry."
That was the end of the conversation, I fell asleep almost straight after. Another good sign; not changing too much. I slept almost straight after I met my clone too. I don’t know how long either time, usually I mark time by whether the TV show I was watching still makes sense when I’m awake.
I woke up and after finally eating, wrote up the experience. I’d taken a break from work and social media but when that was over I’d need something to blog about. A piece of paper I didn’t even know I’d noticed on the counter the day was gone. Maybe my clone did it. Apparently, they were based on me, whoever gave them a cleaning compulsion seriously misjudged me.
Even before grooming myself that day, I looked no different than the day before, not even less ‘finished’ like I always would after waking up. The mirror is my only reference point though, if I checked my laptop I’d be sucked back into social media. You feel even lonelier when you’re surrounded by people who actively choose to ignore you than you do in an empty room. Waiting for people to notice you drains you of energy, and I need energy just in case, I decide to take up Zumba. It's 2035, these things won’t stay fashionable. I walked ten minutes to the convenience store. Never did like that phrase. Convenient for who? Someone who lived in America would find going all the way to a shop in Wales pretty inconvenient. I never liked it when clothes were branded as being knee-length. Whose knees are they using as a reference point? On shorter people they could be floor length. I have too much free time.
A dimming, then brightening, pearly light and a faintly, brown floor filled the atmosphere. I knew I didn’t intend to buy anything but hadn’t thought about what I’d do instead. I leant forward clumsily onto the counter forced a smile
"Hi – I was,"
He stared at me; his pupils widening. I couldn’t believe it. He was another of my clones. He looked like me but with a pushed down peak cap covering most of his face and a faint indentation below his bottom lip. It looks like a piercings been there, but can robot clones get pierced? Would they want to if they presumably shared my thoughts? And how did he get this job so quickly?
"Bruv. What’s gahn on?"
I don’t speak like that, so why was he? He frantically darted his eyes between my own and his phone screen.
"Nah, I’m not staying round ‘ere this is well mad."
His voice peaked and lowered constantly. He stumbled off his stool, his weakening knees just allowing him to scurry in a spider-like way into the back room. I didn’t know happened, but no intention to wait around until I found out.
I knew it could’ve been on my mind forever. I wouldn’t help myself finding out why it happened, and going back to an empty flat wouldn’t help me forget. A friend I hadn’t seen for months lived in a flat complex nearby; a series of wall-size windows and metallic staircases with holes patterned into them. After I assaulted his door, complete with ultra-thin eroding paint job, he answered with his head facing the floor, the centre of his trademark multi-coloured striped hat in line with my face. He urgently lifted his head up: his face was exactly like mine. How had a clone taken ownership of my friend’s house? And if they were based on me why would they want to live in that shithole?
"No, no no no."
He gasped, walking urgently away. One hand clutching at his head the other placing all his weight against the walls as he dragged himself further inside. I slowly followed him. I couldn’t think of what else to do – my confusion reached the point where even the most unpleasant explanation would be less painful."
"I don’t know who the hell you are but get away from me." He teared up.
"I-I-I I’m looking for a friend, you’re wearing h-h his hat, where is he?"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You’re one of my clones."
"In what way is that an answer?"
He lumbered forward to his kitchen counter and clutched at his phone, desperately lunging himself into his bedroom and aggressively locking the door behind
I heard frantic murmuring, and angry demands of explanation but didn’t figure out what the conversation was about.
I bounded up to the door slamming my mouth into the second appalling paint job I’d seen that day
"I won’t leave until I know what you’ve done to my friend!" The muffled rattling of the lock as I shook the door pierced the otherwise completely silent air, he didn’t answer me, After pulling the handle towards me then aggressively pushing I eventually turned my back to the door pressed softly against it and slid myself into the floor my knees up, my knees bent with my face down into my lap. I tilted my neck slightly after a few minutes in this hopeless state and position and noticed a perfectly still figure standing on my left. The same dusty, black duffle coat and bright red tartan flag I’d seen on the clone who insisted they were my mother. It must’ve been the same clone – those people all looked alike to me.
We stared hard at each other for an intense few seconds that felt like an intense few years. I saw their pupils vibrate slightly as a faint red grew around the edges of their eyes, they were moistening in preparation for tears. Tears? On a robot? I’d seen Wizard of Oz, that never ended well.
"You don’t know who I am do you?"
I didn’t know how to answer, I’d already told them I knew they were a clone. They faintly shook their head after gently dropping it. I heard the same muted click from our last meeting.
I was back at my flat. Still completely confused by everything that’d happened in my friend’s house. I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out what was happening anymore – even if I found out what could I do about it? I decided it was best to stay in for the day ….but interestingly that isn’t what I did. I strode for several wide and confused paces through the rain slaughtered streets and not a single face looked familiar. Or rather, all faces looked too familiar. The only face I saw was my own projected onto other shapes. My clones were being mass produced, and the masses now varied. Why was there such a demand for me? I still didn’t know and it was just one in a series of questions that I couldn’t ignore forever. I noticed a disturbance in some of the clones walking paces, one turned and stared in my direction before walking on in slowed confusion. I saw another clone typing furiously, switching their staggered gaze from me to the screen like the convenience store clone had. I started slowly spinning, trying to examine every face that I encountered as quickly as it came into view, if I looked hard enough I’d soon realise I was seeing things the first time around and that every face was wholly individual. I was taken down by the aimless gait of another walker, spending a few seconds on the floor; every limb totally outstretched the same way frogs are displayed when they’re being dissected. I wasn’t green though, I suppose that was one piece of comfort I could draw from the experience. ‘Everyone looks exactly like me, are frightened of me and I’ve got nobody to talk to, but at least I’m not green,’ truly wise words. A firm pair of arms pulled me back to a standing position, in the meantime giving me the feeling of weightlessness.
"Sorry about that M-"
A short agonising groan followed their unfinished sentence. They staggered broadly away. I needed to know why this seemed to be everyone’s reaction and couldn’t think of any way other than following them. ‘Why do my clones keep getting really surprised when they see me’ was a question that could show Google’s limitations. I awkwardly slid through hordes of what now looked like blank canvases to me flailing and lunging forward, determined not to lose that one clone. I could tell who he was from his naturally wide build. Why were these clones people designed to look like they worked out? As I said before, the manufacturers clearly didn’t know me well. What would I say when I caught up to him? I’d worry about that when I actually had. I broke out into a panicked run– maybe all those years of avoiding P.E. made me more athletic. I never used my stamina so I had plenty saved up. I slowed my run by a few more wide and forceful strides, I didn’t even feel vaguely fatigued. Maybe two minutes of exercise wasn’t enough to cause fatigue when pitted against a lifetime of laziness. I saw my target (for want of a better word), his torso moving to and from slightly as he dramatically panted.
"I need to ask you something."
He looked abruptly to the right of him and prepared to lift himself up in one forceful move to run again but I gently stretched my arm out and stared with eyebrows perfectly adjusting to a needy position. He sighed heavily. With wide, anxious eyes, he slowly placed himself back on the seat.
"You shouldn’t be here, I heard what happened there’s no way you’d-"
I was genuinely infuriated by the way he decided to speak using ambiguous wording and pronouns as if building up to a reveal, but it became useful when I decided to write the conversation down later.
"I saw you before. I saw you lying there."
This wasn’t conclusive, everyone had seen me lying down that was my default position. Also my clones would know this, they’d have the same trait.
"It can’t be you, I was on my way to empty out your house. You’ve never seen me before have you, you don’t know who I am? It’s not you."
The statement "it’s not you" couldn’t be answered with a no – you is such a no specific term to refer to someone with that everyone is you. He wasn’t right about me not being me
"The vanishing coin," he pointed with urgency.
The vanishing coin was a trick I learnt when I was eight and always done perfectly. The trick involves holding a coin using your middle finger and thumb in one hand flat down, so that one side of the coin is symmetrical to the top half of the palm while another side is symmetrical to whatever’s above you at the time. You then bring the other hand towards the coin holding hand, placing the thumb of this hand directly under the thumb of the coin holding hand. You then cup the non-coin holding hand around the index finger and thumb BUT before you do this, you drop the coin into your palm. The coin never changes hands. You then draw the attention to the non-coin holding hand which is now clenched into a fist, you open it up to reveal it’s empty, depending on how capable at distracting a spectator you are, you can be given the opportunity to quietly slip the coin into your pocket so that you can open the hand that previously held the coin and reveal this too is empty.
I seamlessly reached the point of cupping just as I expected I would. The coin slid from my palm though and assaulted the floor with a violent clink, made higher in my mind because of how confused I was. It won’t seem like an issue to anyone I’m explaining this to, but I have to emphasise just how flawlessly I was able to perform that trick; I’d never failed at it before. I darted my head frantically in every direction science allowed it to, moving into an awkward crouch position I anxiously searched for the coin. It was just one of those things I was hardwired to do, this was a huge shock. The clone swiftly and widely stepped away from me before abandoning all subtlety and bursting out into an arm flailing sprint. I didn’t bother chasing him again, I wouldn’t get any answers from him, and I’d just tried that.
I tried to keep my eyes fixed firmly forward when I walked back home. No plans on arrival other than maybe hope I’d wake up and find out that no one looks like me, including myself. I heard the muffled vibration of my phone coming from my pocket and an optimistic BLEEP. There was an image of a pale, olive-skinned woman with dark blonde, wavy hair and thin outstretched lips that took up the bottom of her face. Her most interesting feature? She wasn’t a clone of me. There was an attached text,
"My name is Diane, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m contacting you. I can tell you why you’ve seen nothing but copies of yourself for the past few days, and how I know this, and why I look different. I promise you I can answer all of these questions. Meet me tomorrow at the hospital at 8 PM, you have my word I can tell you everything."
Ok, I’m not entirely stupid, I knew how that sounded – this was how villains in old films planted traps. I genuinely didn’t feel like I had much choice though—I couldn’t cope with feeling lost for much longer and there were no signs at all that would suddenly stop.
At the hospital, the sky was a deep enchanting, navy blue infused with a glittery finish. Diane was leaning casually against a blindingly silver bollard. I walked over to her hastily
"You’re Diane aren’t you?"
"Glad you made it," a voice said, but not Diane’s; a deeper voice with a nasal glazing, a voice not dissimilar from…mine. A man dressed in an immaculate crease, free pastel, grey suit calmly stepped into the overhead white lighting. The phrase "it was like something from a film" is overused by people who want to enrich a completely boring event e.g. "I brushed my teeth once, it was like something from a film oh my god" – but this entrance was truly cinematic. He stared hard at me, never showing any emotion on his face—which to my dismay, looked like every other face I’d seen for the last week excluding Diane’s but including mine.
He explained everything to me, and I’ve been given the chance to write everything up while I process it all. After the meeting outside I was taken down an immaculately polished, synthetic, wood staircase into a lavishly decorated room of at least 90 percent mahogany. The man motioned to me with a silver tray of biscuits.
"Oh, I’m not-"
"Not Hungry. You haven’t been for days, you know that?"
"But I’ve eaten."
"No you haven’t, you were programmed to think you had."
"…Programmed? wH-at do you mean prOgrammed"
He sighed, semi frustrated, "You’re not strictly human."
I went silent after he told me this. I wouldn’t even be able to answer anything he asked, though he clearly knew more about the situation than me so it was unlikely I’d be asked anything.
"You’re modeled after Richard Hartley. A young man who lives in the town. Well, lived. He died two months ago, he was 25 years old. His mother came to us not long after practically begging us to build a mechanic copy of him – that’s when you happened. We rushed the process, so you weren’t identical to the deceased, luckily Richard had renounced social media not long before his death so we simply chose not to transplant into you any desire to use it."
The man slid a piece of paper towards me – there was a picture of Richard on it, must’ve been the piece of paper that went missing from my – well, his-house. He looked similar to me but his face was naturally just slightly wider, he explained the photos had to be hidden from me, robot's minds are always naturally programmed to pick up on small details.
"It’s why you’ve had so much stamina. It’s also why you’ve been so analytical of things surrounding you. You wouldn’t have noticed this but I’ve seen the notes you’ve made, do you think a human is that vividly descriptive about things they’ve only just observed? They’d need hours and hours of thinking to remember the sort of details you naturally register. If I was to sigh then you’d probably said I sighed, I don’t know – in some sort of, frustrated way? Or semi-frustrated" (Ironically that was actually the sort of thing he thought, but I decided to use it).
"At first it seemed successful, you could process feelings in the same way as any person. You spoke to Richard’s mother. She told us that you seemed aware who she was, but slightly distant. She admitted to being sarcastic, even dismissive to you, to get the sort of reaction she’d expect from her son. After that it seemed there was a glitch in your system – you couldn’t process individual human faces, and saw everyone as you. We thought this might happen given how quickly we built you, so we entered false information that clones had been created in your - well, Richard’s - image as an explanation. Your mother arrived at your door one day and claimed you asked her if she was one of your clones. We implanted most of Richard’s memories, but not his skills. That’s why you couldn’t do the coin trick when you met Richard’s family friend. Your mother forgot to tell him you’d been invented so he was still clearing out Richard’s house. We’ve been tracking you but it didn’t feel right to approach you on the street and force you to come with us, you’ve got your own mind, human or not, which is why I gave you the option in the form of Diane."
‘H-H-How could I see djainjnfufsiavncdskcnsoad." Maybe I’d started malfunctioning because now I knew what I was – what I didn’t know wasn’t hurting me.
"Do you mean Diane?"
"You can’t process HUMAN’S faces. Diane’s one of my constructions, not based on a particular person she’s my own design."
"Usually recuperation solves the problems you experienced so we gave your mother a powering down device to use whenever you malfunctioned - like when you didn’t recognise her, or your friend who had to call her after he thought he’d seen Richard’s ghost in his flat. You described the noises of the device as muted clicks."
Even small details were important to what I was.
"There are a few choices, either we reprogram you and attempt to make you process other human faces, but this could be a long procedure and lead to more serious side effects due to the cheap material some of my employees used on you, and if these become serious we may have to deactivate you permanently. Alternatively we can leave you as you are, you can continue to live knowing you’re an android without the ability to process unique human features. Alternatively we could simply deactivate you now rather than run risks or leave you feeling alienated."
He left the room saying he’d give me time to choose. All I did was stare forward with the phrase "I’m not hungry" repeating in my artificial mind. I hear him walking back in
"What’s your decision?"
All I seem capable of responding with is,
"I’m. Not. Hungry."