The thing about it was that Jack’s life was pretty dull, right up until the day he got shot in the face. That was the event that changed everything. It was one of those things that didn’t really hurt at all, that just happened too fast for the brain to register the pain. It looked nasty though. Not the sort of blemish that a little makeup would take care of, that was for sure. But that bit didn’t really matter, there was no open casket funeral or anything, because Jack was a member of the social class fortunate enough to have clones. When one body got used up, in would come the next. When for whatever reason a person would die, they would just wake up in the lab, and have a new one. The old body was just disposed of, or something. No one knew. People never really wanted to ask what became of it, and the information was never offered. It was one of the questions that everyone always wanted to ask, and then if they ever woke up in the lab, decided they didn’t want to know after all.
For the most part, Jack had never been a big believer in the “ignorance is bliss” mentality. It just didn’t fit in with his life of mathematics and research. But like so many before him, when faced with the news of his recent death, Jack found himself perfectly willing to accept that point of view. He’d have much preferred to remain in ignorance of both the disposal of his former body, as well as the method of his demise. Unfortunately the latter was not left to him to decide. One day, instead of opening his eyes to the warm incandescent glow of his bedroom lamp, Jack found himself in the lab, where a doctor immediately flashed a bright pen-light into his eyes.
“Good morning,” said the doctor.
“Haaghglglgl,” was about the best that Jack’s new voice could muster.
“Don’t try talking just yet, drink this, and try some simple humming first to warm up the vocal cords.” He handed down a glass of liquid, very vile tasting as Jack shortly discovered – having to work twice as hard to keep it down. “You died,” said the doc very matter-of-factly, and went back to tapping something in on his hand-held keypad.
The Doctor looked up sharply. “Hum,” he said accusatorially. So Jack did. For two minutes, all the while questions racing through his mind. Did he really die what had happened to him what day is it when would he get to eat he was absolutely starving! After checking his watch, the Doctor simply said “You may talk.”
“Did I really die?”
“What happened?” The doctor tapped on his keypad again, and began to turn the small screen towards Jack, then thought better of it.
“Are you sure you want to know?”
“Of course.” And then, “I mean no.” But then, “Yeah, okay.” The doctor looked at Jack for a moment, as though expecting him to change his mind one last time. When he didn’t the doctor began to slowly turn the screen towards him again. “Okay, no. I don’t. Sorry.”
The doctor sighed, but nodded wisely. “Sometimes that’s for the best. You’ll just have to take my word for it.” Tap, tap, on the keypad. “So, you may feel some slight time disorientation, since your last memory dump was five days ago.”
“Five days? It feels like…”
“Today? Yes. I know. Like I said, you’ll be feeling some – “
“Slight time disorientation. Yeah, yeah. So this is what it feels like.”
“Yes. Well, all your vital signs check out, so you’re free to go whenever you like. I’m pronouncing you fit as of” tap, tap “eleven-thirty ay em. Any further time spent in our care will be charged to your account, to be settled up on departure.” And with that the doctor smiled, turned on his heel and strode out of the room with alacrity.
Jack sat, a dumb look on his face. After all, it was the first time he’d awoken to have a doctor tell him that he’d died. He took the news rather well. So well in fact, that he found it high time to lean over the side of the bed and vomit up all of that nasty tasting liquid the doctor had made him drink. The next thing he did was to stumble his way into the bathroom and examine himself in the mirror. Same old face. Same pale, not-enough-sun complexion. Same emptiness behind the eyes. Yeah, well, he wouldn’t have minded so much had that gone away. It was simply a reminder that he was already slipping back into his normal, everday life. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy what he did for a living, it was good money and all, but it just wasn’t very, what was the word? Fulfilling. Jack was tired of it all. Tired of working in a lab all day, of the doldrums lifestyle. After all, how exciting is it to come home and say to no-one, “Hey, guess what I did today? I grew a new kind of fungus.”
But those aren’t my real problems. My real problems must be much more complicated. Let me catch you up to speed.
So I got home from the hospital, and hadn’t been there more than fifteen minutes, just long enough to start heating up a pot-pie in the oven, when there’s a knock at my door. Looking through the peephole, I saw one man in a suit, flanked by two fully uniformed officers of the public interest. I keyed the pad-lock, and the door opened.
The one in the suit spoke. “I’m sorry to bother you sir, but – say, that smells good. We didn’t catch you in the middle of dinner did we?”
“No.” I shake my head. “I was just, uh, making something. Hadn’t started eating yet. So, what can I help you with officer?”
“Detective. Detective Garber. This is officer Jones, and this is officer Flandry. Sir, I’m not sure how much information you were given by your doctor, or how much you asked, but… do you mind if we come in? I think this may take a while.”
Not exactly what I wanted to hear after the day I’d already been having, especially with that pot-pie almost ready to eat, but what could I say? “Sure, come on in. I hope you don’t mind if I eat. It’s been quite the day. I just got back from the…” He’d mentioned my doctor. Which meant he must’ve known about what had happened. Which also meant that he probably knew a lot more than I did, since I didn’t know pi.
“Yes, the doctor. We know. That’s what we’re here to talk to you about sir. Now, I understand that in most cases, a person has the right to waive knowledge about their death, but this, it seems, is a special circumstance.”
“A special circumstance?” I almost wanted to laugh. As though death weren’t a special enough circumstance…
“Yes, special circumstance. You see, you didn’t just die. You were murdered.”
“What?! Who… why…”
“Yes, yes. Denial is a standard response to news such as this, but believe us sir, you were murdered. There’s proof right here if you’d care to see.” Although his words indicated that I might have some choice in the matter, I didn’t. He whipped out the photos and held them in front of my face before I’d even had time to process all of his words.
And sure enough. There he was. Dead. With a gaping, bloody hole in his forehead. It wasn’t pretty. He reached a shaking hand toward the picture, thought better of it, and took a deep breath.
“Excuse me for a moment, detective.” Very calmly, Jack walked into the bathroom, closed the door, lifted the seat on the toilet, and for the second time that day emptied the contents of his stomach. He turned to the sink, washed his hands, and checked himself in the mirror before working up the nerve to head back into the figurative maelstrom of what would surely be more devastating news. No vomit on the face or clothes, that was good.
“Pardon that interruption, I’m not…” said Jack, exiting from the bathroom just in time to find officer Flandry rifling through the papers on his desk. “Uh, can I help you find something, officer?”
Looking up with a non-plussed expression on his face, detective Flandry merely replied “No,” and returned to the papers at-hand.
“Oh. Well, uh… good. Then.” And Jack turned his attention to Detective Garber, who regarded him with a smug expression.
“Don’t be embarrassed. I’ve seen lots of people toss it when they see themselves dead. It’s no big deal. Did you want to have a closer look, or are you all finished?” Detective Garber didn’t even have to wait for Jack’s verbal response before he started putting the photo back into its sleeve. “Yeah, kinda figured. Maybe you won’t be having that dinner so soon after all.” His eyes scanned the room, settling on a chair which he promptly approached and sat it.
Jack, who had by this time recovered at least some sense of reason, decided that things had gone far enough. Shaking his head, waving his hands in front of him he said “No. No. Okay you, officer, please put down my papers… thank you. And you, detective, now that you’re comfortable would you mind telling me just what’s going on?”
Garber looked him straight in the eye. “Actually, I was kind of hoping you could tell me that very thing.” Silence.
Jack’s eyes widened slightly, producing a slight nod from Garber. “Wait, are you telling me you don’t know how this happened to me?”
“I didn’t say that at all. I just said that I was hoping you could tell me.”
Jack’s face was blank. “I… don’t…”
“Yeah, I can see you don’t. I was hoping to skip over this part, seeing as I took you to be a sharp cookie, but I guess I was mistaken. You see, usually when someone is murdered, it’s for a reason. Now often times, the person being murdered is in some kind of trouble, has known enemies, the sort of thing that outside parties who might be close to the victim don’t always know. And in these cases, one of the first things the victim does is spill the beans, hoping to avoid a future repeat of any acts of violence upon their person.”
“Ah, now I see,” said Jack, nodding.
“I should hope so, seeing as I haven’t left much for you to figure out. Don’t quit your day job… I don’t see detective work in your future.”
“Actually,” replied Jack, “it’s funny you should say that, since I used to think about joining the department of investigations.”
“Oh, really. Well, let me make a note of that.” The detective pulled out his notepad and said, as he wrote, “The victim wanted to be an investigating official.” He looked up, smiling. “Now we’ve got something.”
Garber just shook his head. “You want some advice? Just keep on doing whatever it is you do in that lab of yours, and leave the legal investigations to the professionals. I think you’ll do much better there.” He put away the notebook, and stood up, smoothing his overcoat. “So, before we leave you to your meal, is there anything else you’d like to tell us?”
“Not really. I’m not in any trouble. No one hates me, at least that I know of. But even if they did, if they knew me that well wouldn’t they also have known that I’d just be cloned? So killing me wouldn’t do any good.”
Garber’s eyebrow lifted slightly. “Hey, look at that. The professor isn’t as dumb as he looks.” With a wink he added, “Keep thinking like that, and you might just do okay. Flandry, we’re outta here.”
“Good night, sir,” said the officer, and then followed Garber out of the apartment, closing the door behind them.
Standing there looking blankly at the door, smelling the faint odor of vomit on his own breath, no longer the slightest bit hungry, Jack was quite possibly the most confused he’d been in his entire life. Somewhere in the back of his head he reflected that technically, his life was less than twenty-four hours old, and under normal circumstances he might have found that rather amusing. But not right now. Since he’d never really needed help from the police before, Jack had no first-hand knowledge on which to base his expectations of police behavior, nor had he previously thought about what he should expect, but he was pretty sure that what he’d just witnessed came nowhere near what he would have come up with had he given it a thought.
And that left him with more questions, but the same amount of answers as ten minutes before.
The pot pie had been good. The bottle of wine he’d followed it down with had been good, and the comfort of his sofa was really good. Jack lay stretched out, book in hand, reading contentedly. Somewhere in the back of his mind he felt he deserved another bottle of wine for all of his recent hardships, but the effort required to get it certainly didn’t fall into the grand scheme of things. In all actuality, the book was merely something to keep his hands busy. Not one word that he’d read had actually registered yet, as he was primarily occupied with running over the events of the day in his head, over and over. Now that he’d had time to think about it, he couldn’t fathom how the whole situation could be anything other than a horrible mistake. A thought which, granted, made him feel much better, but in a way was also disappointing. Murder with a purpose was exciting. Murder on accident was… not. Unfortunately, nothing else made sense. There would have been no obvious reason to have him killed, he was no one of influence, and while his work might be important to some, it certainly wasn’t worth killing him for. Unless, of course it was Kent, trying to keep him from finalizing his theory, and thus the promotion as well. But Kent just wasn’t that stupid. He was clone eligible too, so he would have to know that murder would only delay the inevitable. Besides, Kent wasn’t the murdering type. Jealous, yes. Homicidal, no.
To bring a final end to that train of thought, Jack’s doorbell rang for the second time that evening. While slightly annoyed at first, Jack quickly realized that getting up to answer the door would be the perfect excuse for that second bottle of wine. With that in mind he got up, stretched, dropped the book on the sofa, and went to open the door. He wasn’t sorry for it either. On the other side was an extraordinarily beautiful woman. With a bottle of wine nonetheless. She smiled.
“Hi.” Her voice was smooth, Jack noted, probably a shower singer. “I didn’t hear from you, so here I am.” There was that smile again. And there was Jack, with no clue.
“Uhm,” he responded, clearing his throat. “Right. Here you are.” He took a deep breath, and decided his confession of ignorance could wait. “I’m sorry, forgive my manners. Won’t you come in?”
She walked past him, and as Jack closed the door, he couldn’t help but to notice how nicely her dress clung to her hips. It’s the wine talking, he chastised himself, and followed her into the living kitchen. She set the bottle down on the counter, and began to open cupboards at random.
“The wine glasses – I assume that’s what you’re looking for?” Jack asked. She nodded. “They’re in there.” He pointed, waited for her to grab two, and decided that this was as good a time as any to come clean.
“You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t remember you.” He followed it with a weak laugh, raising his hands in surrender. Her face took an expression of someone who’s just been told a joke that they don’t quite get.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I don’t remember you. Which is a shame. I really wish I did.”
“Oh, stop fooling,” she said with a shoo of her hand. “Corkscrew?”
“No,” said Jack, walking over to a drawer. “I had an unfortunate accident today. Or maybe yesterday, come to think of it I didn’t ask.” He pulled out a corkscrew, and handed it to her.
“Yes. I was, well… killed. And as luck would have it, I’m out of my memories for the last five days. It probably sounds really crazy, huh?”
She blinked, pursed her lips, and turned her attention to the bottle of wine. Very deftly she unwrapped the foil, inserted the corkscrew, and, much more gracefully that Jack could have hoped to, removed the cork. He watched the tip of her tongue peek out from her lips as she filled their glasses, only to retreat back inside as she turned to hand him a glass. “Well, here’s to being alive again.” She clinked her glass to his, and tipped it back. Jack marveled at her composure at being confronted with such a statement, and drained his own glass.
“Ah, I think I have just the thing to complement this,” said Jack, turning toward the refrigerator. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a bright flash. Unfortunately, before he could process the information to do anything with, the flash was followed by a bullet entering the side of his head. Jack’s brain was destroyed in an instant.
He opened his eyes to a bright pen light, moving back and forth. First shining in one eye, and then the other. “So, we meet again,” said a voice.
“Haaghedglglgl,” was Jack’s reply. Disoriented and confused, he tried to rise to his elbows. The bed certainly wasn’t his, nor was the brightly lit room he was in.
“Relax,” said the voice. “You died. Confusion is normal.”
Died? How the hell could I have died, wondered Jack.
“Here, drink this.” Jack looked up at the source of the voice – a middle-aged man, slightly balding, with no exceptional features at all. “Don’t try to talk, your vocal cords need to warm up first. Try humming.” The words came with little enthusiasm, as though they’d been recited hundreds of times before. The man turned his attention away from Jack, tapping at a small device he held in his hand.
Jack looked around while humming. He appeared to be in a hospital room of sorts, with examination equipment lining the walls and a plethora of cleaning, swabbing, and dressing supplies stacked in side of flexi-glass cabinets. Fascinating. So this is what it’s like to come back, he thought. Which once again brought forth a slough of questions to mind, so he tried his voice again.
“So how did I die?”
“Are you sure you want to know?” asked the doctor, looking up from his hand-pad.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” And then Jack thought about it. “Wait. Maybe you’re right. Uh, never mind.” The doctor just nodded, checked his pad, and nodded again.
“Good, because I can’t tell you anyway. However, I am required in a case such as this to inform you that you’ve now been re-formed twice in the period of one week.”
“A case such as this?” asked Jack, startled. “What do you mean by that?”
“I’m sorry, that’s classified information. I can only inform you that this is the second time.”
“You mean you weren’t going to tell me anyway? Are you saying that I can’t know about my own life, or death, or whatever you want to call it?” It wasn’t that Jack really wanted to know, but rather the principle of the whole issue that made him ask.
“Just the case in general. It’s classified.” The doctor sighed.
“Can’t you just accidentally show me the screen on your little pad there?”
“Okay, how about just the time of death.”
“Where I was found?”
“Is there anything at all you can tell me that I might want to know?” Jack asked with exasperation. “No wait, let me guess… it’s ALL classified.”
“Actually, no,” replied the doctor, a smirk on his face. “I can tell you that you are officially pronounced fit as of ten seventeen ay em, and are free to go.”