Jun 18, 2016

Error Patrol

Thomas and his clone, Parthney
I recently blogged about the possibility that there might be clone "copies" of me. Apparently Gohrlay had gone out of her way to make me contemplate that possibility because I'm not very good at handling surprises when they are sprung on me. Today, the "sprung".

Error Patrol
Clones: Kach and Lycaun
There are some events in life that are recognizable as disasters only in hindsight. Back in the previous millennium, I started posting some book "reviews" on the website. They still reside in that part of cyberspace, occasionally attracting the attention of some poor author who is desperate for someone, anyone, to write an intelligent review of their new book.

In the Ekcolir Reality
Asimov sometimes wrote about the pain inflicted on him by well-meaning people who would ask him to review books or otherwise comment on their literary efforts. He would usually just say "No." I've been tempted to delete my old online book "reviews" just to save myself from having to deal with a trickle of such well-meaning folks. I can't imagine the vast torrent of such requests that must have bombarded Asimov.

According to Gohrlay, here is what happened: one of my clones (I'll call him Beta) noticed a book review that I wrote, one that is on the Amazon website. For some reason, that led to an attempt by Beta to contact me. Gohrlay admits that she has always monitored my email accounts and this was not the first time that she intercepted an "undesirable" who had tried to contact me.

I became more than just a little grumpy upon being informed that Gohrlay "manages" my email. I suspect that Gohrlay was slightly embarrassed, so she tried to distract me with an amusing anecdote. She claims that in the Ekcolir Reality she had a similar experience. Remember: in the Ekcolir Reality, time travel was still possible.....

The Hidden Centuries
It was late and there was no power. Roben was home alone: the rest of her family was off on vacation in the tropics. An ice storm had struck and now she was into her second day with no electricity. She had plenty of firewood and no need to do anything but read. She'd had a long, glorious day of reading, just for fun. Roben looked at the digital watch on her wrist: 3:34 PM.

Gohrlay was reading page 247 of The Hidden Centuries when she heard the big knocker on the front door start banging. Roben was tempted to ignore the visitor, but she decided it was worth going to the door. That was her first mistake. However, it might even be the police checking on her, so it made no sense to ignore this unwanted interruption. She looked again at her watch: 3:35.

Roben made her way through the cold house to the front door and she looked out through the big window that hung over the front walkway. The banging had stopped, but the visitor could not have gone far.

There she was, slipping along on the crust of ice that covered the remnants of the most recent snow fall. She'd given up and was heading back towards her car, a red sports model that could be seen though the trees out near the end of the driveway. Roben pulled open the front door and called out, "I'm here."

The stranger turned around and immediately Roben knew that this was trouble. Big trouble. The stranger was not really a stranger. This had happened twice before to Roben: she had been visited by herself, or, more precisely, a version of herself from the future.

This version of Roben waved and again made the perilous journey up the icy front steps to the door. Finally she looked up and said, "It thought you were here. I saw your smoke."

Second mistake: Roben held the door open, "Well, come in."

The visitor took off her parka and slipped out of her boots. Roben was a tiny bit surprised: this visiting version of Roben seemed no older than herself. She took the visitor's coat and tossed it over the back of a chair and promptly made her third mistake. Roben asked, "What is it this time?"

Previously, she had been visited by herself in order to keep Roben appraised of some critically important event that was about to happen in her life. In neither of those cases had Roben been asked to actually change Time. Rather, she had been given reinforcement to make sure that she would continue down a desirable path into the future and maybe just slightly improve on how a new part of her life would unfold. On both of those previous occasions, her future self had visited for just a short time and then returned to the future. Now, Roben assumed that she was again speaking to herself.

The visitor was looking around, apparently intrigued by the artworks that Roben's mother had deployed as decorations in the entrance hall. She snapped her gaze back to Roben and stammered, "Sorry to drop in like this, but allow me to introduce myself. My name is Phenence Chentz. You don't seem surprised to see me, so I'm guessing that you have previously met one of our clone sisters. Maybe you are mistaking me for her?"

Of course, Roben knew about the possibility of human cloning, but she was in no way expecting a clone to come walking into her life. Here was a type of trouble that she had never imagined. Her voice hollowed out by a sudden sense of doom, Roben replied, "No, I thought you were me."

This reply from Roben vastly amused Phenence and she burst out laughing. "Ya, I often talk to myself, too."

Roben said, "Its you! I've sometimes heard your laugh, but..." So, this was it. She'd been warned by her future self that it was possible to have telepathic contact with other people. Had this meeting been foreseen by her future self or was this an error, a chance encounter that would have to be corrected and prevented?

Phenence nodded, "I think I know what you mean. I've always felt like I've had an imaginary friend, someone I talk to, but someone who is just beyond...."

Roben gestured into the house. "Come this way. Most of the house is cold, but I'm heating one room with a fire."

The two clones made their way back to the heated family room.

Phenence took off her heavy sweater and sat down in a chair near the fire. Roben spent a few minutes tidying up and putting away her school books and notes. She had only made a halfhearted attempt to study during the long weekend. "The power has been out here for almost two days, so I've been camping."

"The main roads were clear for my trip up from Virginia, but the local streets here are still a mess of downed trees."

Roben plopped down on the couch and asked, "How did you find me?"

"I found you online. When I saw your profile picture I tried to contact you by email. I suppose you thought I was a crank."

"No, I never got your email."

" are Roben? Roben Skapp?"

"Yes, that's me."

"Strange. I sent you three emails before I gave up and decided to visit you in person. I was able to trace your rather famous mother to this town. The locals seem proud to have such a famous author in residence."

Roben nodded. "So, they told you where my mother lives."

"And I was lucky enough to find you here. Alone?"

Roben found it impossible to not trust Phenence, but some caution seemed wise. She offered a guarded reply: "They decided to move to a hotel when the power went out."

"Wise. But you prefer 'camping'?"

Roben shrugged. She asked bluntly, "What do you want?"

Phenence seemed to take no offense at Roben's rude and terse language. The girl was obviously under a lot of stress. Phenence explained, "I'm here to satisfy my curiosity. I don't run into clones every day."

"How do you know that we are clones?"

"Well, I suppose we should have our genomes sequenced, just to confirm, but somehow I know. And now, the most surprising part of all this is your reaction. What did you mean when you said that you.... 'I thought you were me'?"

Roben hesitated and mulled over her regret for having spoken so openly. "I'm not sure if I should tell you. I can tell you this: I am surprised to meet you. I'm trying to figure out a reason for you to exist."

Phenence laughed again. "It is an odd sensation to hear you, sounding just like me, but saying the strangest things!"

Roben wondered who would bother to clone her. Why should anyone bother? She suggested a possible alternative to them being artificial clones. "Maybe we are twin sisters."

"I quizzed my mother about that possibility. She seems certain that I'm her only child. I suspect she would have noticed if she'd given birth to twins."

With no attempt to be polite, Roben demanded, "Why are you here?"

"You know something that you are not sharing with me. How very mysterious. My hope was that you would explain everything to me. Now it appears we'll have to work hard, together, in order to get to the bottom of this."

Roben relaxed back into the cushions. Phenence seemed rational and curious, not crazy and dangerous. "Of course, I'm not entirely innocent, like you. I do have secrets, so I'm certain to frustrate you. Still, we do share an interest in the mystery of our apparent biological identity. But are we identical?"

Phenence grimaced and replied. "I have some rather unusual physical features. Do you?" Roben stood up and pulled off her clothing. Phenence did the same and they quickly verified that they shared all of their unusual body structures.

Pulling her clothes back on, Roben commented, "My doctors insist that they've never seen anyone quite like me."

"Yes, doctors have told me that, too." Phenence slowly buttoned up her shirt. "Yet, I've always felt that there was someone else like me in the world. I've had times when I could almost see you."

Roben could sense a kind of telepathic connection to Phenence, a metal link that existed almost entirely in the unconscious. "I know what you mean. We are connected in mysterious ways. In fact, I'm surprised that I was not kept better informed."

Phenence pleaded, "Why not tell me what you know? What do you gain by keeping me in the dark?"

Just then, both Phenence and Roben noticed a flicker in their peripheral vision. Suddenly, there was a third woman in the room. She spoke with calm authority, "Roben is wise to use caution with her secrets."

Roben immediately suspected that a time traveler had arrived. But if so, why was this visitor to the past not herself? Previously it had been her future self who was sent back in time to prevent a looming problem in the timeline. She asked, "Who are you?"

The woman replied, "You can know me as Grean."

Phenence tried to rise out of her chair, but she crumpled and slumped on the floor. Roben rushed forward and examined the girl's eyes, felt for a pulse. Grean explained, "She's fine. You need not worry. I'll soon remove her from your life."

Roben stood up, turned and glared at Grean. Speaking rather hysterically, Roben asked, "What's going on?"

Grean grinned. "Why ask? There is very little that I can tell you. Try to control your emotions"

Roben tried to think, but her mind was jumbled with possibilities. She sat down on the couch and tried to imagine what Grean would do next. Roben was sure that she did not want to end up like Phenence, struck down and crumpled on the floor like a rag doll.

Grean said approvingly, "Better. We can have a little chat. Perhaps I should have met with you sooner, but everything was progressing smoothly and I felt no need to interfere. Had I not arrived now, you and Phenence would have worked together and ended up proving your genetic identity and... well, I'm ending all that now. You already have everything you need."

Roben massaged her right temple and tried to make sense of what Grean was saying. This was exactly like talking to her future self and trying to make sense of stray words and mysterious hints about future events. "So, you are a time traveler."

"Yes, I was designed to get everything right in the timeline here on ancient Earth. You are one of the things that must turn out right, so it may have been inevitable that I'd have to make at least one walk across the stage of your life."

Roben complained, "So for you this is just a casual stroll through my life? Clean up a stray clone and put 'thing' Roben back in her proper place?"

Grean chuckled. "Oh, I suppose you have cause for some resentment. You never asked to be the fixed point in this Reality. Still, that is a matter for you to take up with R. Gohrlay. Don't worry about poor little Phen; I'll make sure that she has an interesting life in the Core and who knows? It might be useful to have a copy of you in the Galactic Archives."

"I'm worried enough for me and my family. What if they had been here when this happened?"

Grean sadly shook her head. "Well, that was a mess. Hence, the family vacation that will be remembered as a lucky escape from the ice storm. Your parents were easy to move out of the way, but I was surprised to discover that it was important to let Phen meet with you, briefly. Strangely, your memory of that will pay off in the next Reality."

Roben suddenly felt very tired. "Before you shut down my brain and start editing  my memories, tell me one thing. Are there other clones of me here on Earth?"

Grean shrugged, "If there were, I'd have to lie and tell you, 'no'. However, all the others have been removed. I suspect that R. Gohrlay knew that the temporal momentum behind your clones would be useful. Some day I'll get to the heart of her sly tricks. Phen did her duty, so you need not think again about clones... not until the Final Reality." Grean stood up and glanced at Phenence with a purposeful gaze. The unconscious girl briefly shimmered with a kind of golden internal light and then she was gone. Where Phen had previously been, a cloudy mist made of flecks of gold briefly sparkled and then winked out.

Grean looked Roben in the eye and said, "I hope we never meet again. Oh, and don't try to get up. You will now sleep and, well, I've always wanted to drive a fast car."

Roben tipped over and sprawled on the couch. Grean gently put the girl's legs up on the couch and then she tossed more wood on the fire. Grean picked up Phen's sweater and then she walked through the cold house and gathered up Phen's coat. Avoiding the icy driveway, Grean teleported from inside the house into the driver's seat of Phenence's car. The engine roared to life and Grean morphed into the physical form of Roben.

Grean and her clone.
Grean drove off into the late winter afternoon, not bothering to drive slowly on the slick roads. More cleaning remained to be done, but soon enough Phenence would be erased from Earth, even from the memory of the woman who has served as her mother.
I suppose Gohrlay expects me to feel gratitude: how easy it would be for me to end up like Phenence, extracted from Earth by Grean or maybe some tryp'At Overseer. Poor Phen; her life lived in Deep Time, but only just to provide Gohrlay with story to tell here in the Final Reality.

Next: Gohrlay in the Asimov Reality

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