Shattered mirror

Doppelganger (2004)

I wrote this story when I was at university. It deals with a very common science-fictional theme: time dilation.

 

Doppelganger

They say that in cryogenic sleep, it is common to dream in a disjointed fashion. This is something to do with the stimuli that are applied to your brain and body; keeping muscles in tone, replacing decaying cells, prompting R.E.M. – everything a healthy, unconscious body needs.

Of course, it is also common to experience repetitious dreams. This sleep is artificial. We do not drift through varying levels of consciousness. We are shifted in and out of them by an Artificial Intelligence that monitors us for every second of our journeys through interstellar space.

So, whilst travelling back to Earth, after a brief tour of duty in Alpha Centauri’s Taurus asteroid cluster – on behalf of Earth Central Government’s internal security forces, of which organisation I am a high-ranking member – it was unsurprising that my dreams were obsessed with my wife. Particularly so, considering that before my departure she had just confirmed a pregnancy, meaning a second child was on the way.

My mind is the only place where I will ever see my wife again, and I will never know my child. You see, although we have defied the laws of physics as written by our predecessors, by achieving the capability to break the light speed boundary – or, rather, circumvent it – relativity and time dilation still hold true. Although I will have aged only twenty months in my travels, my wife will have grown old and died. So, too, will have my first daughter, and the second daughter I never knew will have followed her. Fate is cruel. So is the necessity of duty.

This regret will remain with me forever. Not regret that I will never see my Katarine again, but that she was sacrificed to my duty. I forsook my family for the greater good, and for that I will never forgive myself.

I have a mug of coffee clenched in my fist. Steam rises from it like a thin mist, and is tugged about by my slow, measured breathing. I am seated, along with the rest of my twelve-person security team, and the four-person crew of the transport cruiser, in a small lecture room, sited in an Earth spaceport terminal. A man dressed in a tight uniform, which I do not recognise, is stood in front of us all, and he is lecturing us. He is explaining that the world has changed in the time that we have been gone. I cannot imagine what could be profounder to me than knowing that my family are dead.

The man slaps his hands together with false enthusiasm. “Right,” he says. “Now you have to run the gauntlet, as it were. The media and other observers will doubtless be out in enthusiastic force. If you would follow me, I’ll guide you to our transport. Then we’ll take you to the acclimatisation centre.”

I take a sip of coffee as I stand, before abandoning the mug and following the official, who continues to prattle as we stroll towards an elevator. I do not imagine that anyone else is paying him very much attention: thoughts similar to my own must be passing through their minds. Perhaps our guide feels the need to fill our silence with words. Or perhaps he is nervous in the presence of walking, breathing antiquities such as us.

An empty elevator is waiting for us just along the corridor. A soldier in a uniform that I do recognise is standing by it. As she snaps to attention and steps aside I meet her eyes for a second, and offer a small nod to a fellow member of Earth Central Government’s security division. Our guide salutes and thanks the sentry as we trudge past her en masse, into the elevator. He boards last, and presses a button. The doors slide shut, and with an almost imperceptible tremor the elevator begins to move.

Seconds later there is another minute shudder, and then the doors open again. I blink as the light of the Sun – something I have not experienced for almost two years – strikes my eyes, and I twitch involuntarily as a wave of noise follows. It is the hubbub and clash of dozens of voices shouting and chattering at once. Then there are the clicks and the whirrs of cameras. There are also the whines, booms, roars, and other noises that one would normally associate with a busy Eurasian spaceport.

Our guide steps out into this maelstrom, where plastic barricades and lines of unarmed security personnel are holding more than five hundred people back. We follow our anchor to this strange world with trepidation, staring around us in muddled bemusement. Things are different. Not substantially so, but everything looks different. Munich spaceport is bigger than it used to be. The equipment the media persons wield has changed; more compact, more streamlined. The clothes worn by our audience are not those of the fashions we knew, although they are not by any means bizarre.

As more security personnel fall in behind our little entourage, ensuring that we do not wander off, I catch an impossible glimpse of someone intimately familiar. I am frozen for a second, my eyes reading the blank face that is so dear to me. One of our warders prods me gently and says something, but I ignore him. Then the eyes I am examining sweep around and meet mine.

I leap forwards, shoving aside the security guards in my path, and bound towards the unmistakeable figure of my wife, Katarine. Her eyes widen as I leap forwards, as though she is afraid of me. A man catches my arm in a tight grip. I am so close to Katarine now, and I manage to gasp out to her. ‘Katarine! How is it that you-?’

Her eyes become suddenly subdued, and she relaxes a little, her gaze sweeping down away from mine. Immediately, I notice tiny imperfections: the hair, the figure… a birthmark where one should not be. The man who has hold of my arm tugs on it gently, and I almost miss the doppelganger’s words as I stumble away in shock.

“I am sorry, grandfather- this was wrong of me… I wanted to see…”

The rest of her words fade into the miasma of sound that surrounds me. Control of my body is passed on to motor functions, and as my mind pulls inwards, I am whirled away, back into the crowd, pulled apart once more from what I can never return to.

[‘Doppelganger’, Shaun Green, 2004. Image taken from Google Image Search.]

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