Late last Sunday night around two in the morning, a knock woke me from sleep, the distinctive sound of a 9mm Glock butt being tapped against a solid-core apartment door, and I stumbled down the hall to answer. It was Alex, peering at me over the chain in a pissy and dangerous way, as if to say, I could kick your door in, but because you are an old friend, I'll restrain myself. This time. If you open up now. He has very expressive eyes. Dark and brooding and mysterious, but occasionally talkative. Sleepily bemused, I unchained myself and let him into the apartment. He brushed by in his tall way, smelling of leather and gun oil and mint gum, and proceeded to check my closets and light fixtures. Then he turned on the radio loudly--I took pleasure in the knowledge that I'd be the one annoying my neighbors for a change--and conveyed to me via a series of complex gestures and American Sign Language that he wanted me to pack a suitcase for a 7-10 day trip.
So I did. He loomed against my bedroom doorframe, silently watching and critiquing my underthings without a single facial flicker. When I was done, I started to open the front door, but he halted me with one raised hand and then made his way around the apartment, turning some lamps on and others off, placing a book open and face down on the coffee table with a bag of chips next to it, et cetera. My neighbors banged on the ceiling as he was surveying his work, and with movement almost faster than my eye could see he pulled and cocked his gun. Fortunately for them, he decided it was an innocuous noise and slid his weapon away again, unused. I fought down a sense of disappointment. It would have been interesting if he'd shot my neighbors. I had never witnessed a murder and was curious to know if he had a silencer, and to see what he'd do afterwards--make a discreet call for housecleaning? Make it look like the work of a serial killer?
But we just left in a peaceful manner. His Jag was parked in the No Parking zone in front of my building, blocking the sidewalk and making wheelchair traffic impossible. It was two in the morning, though, so I didn't say anything. He threw my suitcase in the trunk next to a body I didn't ask about, and I rode shotgun. We headed north on I-5 toward Canada, and I wondered what he planned to do when we reached the border crossing.
He still hadn't said a word. As we picked up speed he turned the radio on and rolled the windows down. The night was balmy. I fell asleep and when I woke up we were in Canada. I smelled manure, the tell-tale work of cows, carried to me on the wind. I opened my mouth to ask where we were heading, but a glance at Alex's serious profile stilled my words. He was intent on the road, his lashes set in perfect horizontals, his lips firmed into a downward turn. I became suddenly aware of how many miles had passed between us since I'd last seen him, and I realized then how much I'd missed him and how glad I was that he'd been cloned.
We drove for several hours more, until dawn pinked the sky, and ended our trip with a slow climb up a winding back road, crunching over gravel on a narrow track, between bough-dipping cedars that brushed the car roof. The road ended at a small cabin that I recognized from a hundred slash stories. When I got out, the air around it smelled of evergreens, dew, cool earth, and mountains, and through a clearing that provided an overlook I could see an unlikely town spread out below us, a drably settled collection of houses and strip malls and industrial parks, flanked by hills on the far side. The lightening sky compensated in beauty though.
Inside the cabin was one of the Mulders, one of the more studious and peaceful breeds, recognizable by the little glasses he was wearing and his loose Aran knit sweater worn over striped pajama bottoms. He had a smile for me and a kiss for Alex, and he was preparing to make pancakes. I liked him immediately.
I called in sick that Monday and after breakfast we spent the morning shooting things in the woods, and then I went into town and got a manicure and an eyebrow wax. It had easily been ten years since I'd had either, but it was Alex's idea. He wanted me to make friendly with the townies, eavesdrop on local gossip. I was amenable, and found a place with good muffins. I did ask him why I was there exactly, but he made only the vaguest replies to my questions, and when I was able to corner Mulder alone for a few minutes he of course had no clue. Alex kept this one completely in the dark, and as Mulders went, he seemed okay with that. I think he was on Prozac. He let Alex call him Fox, spent a lot of time chatting online with alien abductees and conspiracy theorists, was working on his third novel, and devoted twenty hours a week teaching and psychoanalyzing the members of a local Indian tribe. He seemed cheered to have someone new to talk to and played a mean game of Scrabble.
Anyway, Tuesday morning I was getting a bit nervous about missing work, but as I prepared to e-mail my manager again, Alex said not to bother. Your clone is taking care of that, he said.
Excuse me? I said. You cloned me?
He had the peerless nerve of a psychopath. But I admit, after he beat down my existential arguments and got me stoned, I found little to complain about. I can always use a vacation.
I'd like to tell you all about my trip to Canada, but before I left I was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I can't reveal any classified information, but I will say that by the end of the week, the clothes I'd brought were unwearable, I'd developed a light sunburn over my entire body, and I'd inexplicably recalled all the names of the U.S. presidents in chronological order. I'd like to say that they paid me well for my services, but these off-the-books things are often run on a shoestring. Or so Alex claims.
Other than certain incidents that I can't detail, and extended periods of acrobatic sex involving luminous beings of literally unearthly beauty, I found my time away restful and was not at all depressed, and did not eat a revoltingly large piece of lemon pie or several candy bars, nor did I sit on the couch for hours at a time staring vacantly at small talking people, nor crash into bed each night exhausted, with a sense of my life slipping away teaspoon by tiny teaspoon.
On my return, I found that my clone had successfully passed for me at the office. It had diligently filled in and finished a number of projects, staying extra hours to do so. Further, my apartment was spotless. Uncannily so. I haven't quite gotten used to it, and can't find any of the books I was reading. It also rearranged my video tapes and took down my poster of Spike. It left no note to explain its actions, but I can't really fault its tidiness. There were few clues to its tenancy--a Mystery Science Theater tape in my VCR, half an opened package of pasta in the fridge, some new plants--and maybe it's just paranoia, but I got the impression that all surfaces had been wiped of fingerprints, all loose hairs vacuumed up.
So I'm back now. My clone doesn't seem to have used my LJ in my absence, or indeed been active much in fandom at all. I'm relieved. I know that the secret government technology is advanced, and all evidence suggests that the creature's impersonation of me raised no questions, and yet I can't help but feel that a copy of myself would be a degraded identity in some way, corrupted. Perhaps even insane.
How are you all doing?