Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Shortest Day




Martin Schubert fully expected to arrive at his apartment and find that he’d been evicted and his stuff was locked up in some county sheriff’s holding cage or boxed into a storage locker.  Or maybe he’d have to buy it all back in bits and pieces from places like The Scrappy Student Used Books Store near the University -- if indeed there were still such places as used book stores.  

God knows what had happened in the last couple of years.

Interestingly, the world looked pretty much like it had when he last remembered it.  Cars were a little different, there were posters for another blockbuster everywhere, and the televisions were embroiled in the latest electoral campaign... some familiar faces, some new ones.

He stepped over dead leaves to the front door of Arledge Arms, named, presumably, after some forgotten founder of the University.  It was one of the few buildings left in the world that lacked outer security.  It still squeaked the same way it had years earlier as he stepped into the softly lit hallway and unlocked his apartment door.  Much to his surprise, his home remained exactly as he remembered it.  If it had been tossed, it hadn’t been a sloppy job.  In fact, the lights were still on and the place had heat.  Seems like somebody had been paying his bills even after his old self had vanished.  

He slowly descended into a well-worn leather chair and reached into his pocket, extracting a small, elegantly printed card.

The Reason Foundation.hwvoorsgweoccnjelgpirlilsecttnkixyugzovlwosnnhjcreqt

The beautiful indian woman had been so compelling when she'd handed it to him.  So magnetic.  Her offer was generous.  Who was she?

A question for which he currently had no answer.

For the first time, he wished he’d kept a journal of this thoughts, frequently taken photographs of himself, left some record of his existence for himself today.  But he hadn’t.  He wondered a little bit about the past simulacrum version of himself.  Who was the Martin Schubert who had lived in this identity for the last 3 and a half years? Was he just like the real thing or was he different? Had he done anything stupid? Were there warrants out for him somewhere? 

Schubert shrugged:  He’d find out soon enough.  Right now he was tired.  And hungry.

He dropped the card on his desk and grabbed a winter coat as he walked out the door.

His travel had been taken care of and he’d been given him some spending money to get home, but he’d blown through it.  His next stop was an ATM.  He’d pick up some cash and grab dinner.  It was Christmas Eve, but it didn’t bother him to be alone.  He’d blown through a lot of Christmas Eves.

A light snow fell on Campus Street.  The students were gone, and the streets were quieter than usual, but little else seemed different.  Certainly not the buildings themselves.  Things rarely changed on campuses... that was part of the appeal.  A new building here or there but little else ever grew unfamiliar.  He saw The Tap.  It was a bar and sandwich place that had been there since the 50’s and probably hadn’t been redecorated since they first cut the ribbon.

The ATM was just down the street in front the AT&T store.  Now there was change.  It had morphed with every decade: A head shop in the 60’s, a music store in the mid-70’s, a video game arcade in the 80’s, an internet coffee shop in the late 90’s, a regular coffee shop in the early 2000s and now it was a cellphone store.

Schubert gave himself about a 2% chance that he was going to actually be able to get cash.  He stuck his card into the machine.  It asked for his PIN.  He input the four digits.  1984 in honor of the Orwellian nature of ATMs.

He waited.  Expecting to be told it had expired and he was wanted by the IRS for tax evasion.&!*#&#*!&&&&*^*@*$^&@&@*^^(*#*%*@^(&%

It didn’t.  It asked him what he wanted to do.  Withdraw cash.  Check account.  Make deposit, etc.

He shrugged and checked his balance.

$212,000.

He’d rarely seen a positive balance in his account, much less one over 4 digits.  This was six.  Six! He was suddenly feeling a whole new appreciation for his previous simulacrum.  Much better with money than the Martin Schubert who had existed before Niantic.

Maybe he could start a new life.

“Martin?” A voice said.  It was familiar.  He turned.  It was Marlie.  He’d just seen her a week before.  Well, a week and a few years.

“Marlie...”  He desperately wished he knew how he’d left things with her.  He’d taken her for dinner before he left for Niantic.  It was a couple towns away where they hopefully wouldn’t be spotted by anybody from campus.  She hadn't been his student for ages, but academic circles were small, and if Schubert got any more stains on his record at the University it might not be readable anymore.

He desperately tried to read her face.  

“It's so good to see you.” Was she sincere?

Seemed to be.  She spoke again.

“When did you get back?”

“Fifteen minutes ago.  Just heading over to the Tap.”xtaqmyj5fkwhv2xj

“No you’re not.  You’re coming to my place.  I hate eating alone.”

She put out her arm.  He put his in hers and they walked down the street, in plain view of anybody who happened to be looking out the window on this darkening, snowy evening of one of the shortest days of the year.  Whatever he’d done, his last simulacrum had left things pretty tidy with Marlie and he had a feeling he was going to enjoy this recursion.

And then it hit him.  He'd heard Hank say it but it hadn't landed until just now...  a meaningless factoid until this exact moment.  A recursion... a simulacrum's life... it only lasts 1331 days.