The memories are a two-track jumble. He remembers chocolate ice cream, the scent of synthetic lemon air freshener. Then there’s recorded birdsong, the crunch of autumn leaves beneath his feet. There are the other things he’s doesn’t want to think about, lurking in the back of his skull. He tries to distract himself by thinking about his childhood, with its toys and games. Adulthood, Delta-grade work schedules and refinery fumes. Cigarettes after sex.
It doesn’t work. The other memories, the ones that bite, come back to haunt him anyway. The smell of the breeding press, saline and clinical. The amniotic glow of the rebirth sac. Trying to reconcile these intruders gives him a migraine.
Because, despite the fact that his heart is still beating, Otto remembers dying. That’s not something that’s very easy to deal with, even at the best of times.
A nurse with wrestler’s arms guides him down the corridor. They pass a window and Otto looks out, sees a smear of distant mountains. Another memory jabs him in the gut. He remembers climbing them. The air was fresh. It rained on the way back down. His sandwiches were ruined.
But then he remembers that he’s never been outside, tries to forget about it. His mind is made of jigsaw pieces that don’t fit; he’s given up trying. Instead, he lets himself be escorted towards his appointment with Spiegel.
Spiegel is a defence lawyer. He speaks in a clipped Alpha-grade accent and wears too much cologne. Otto doesn’t like that, wrinkles his nose when he enters the room.
“Good morning, Otto,” Spiegel says, reaching for a decanter. He pours two glasses of water. “How are you feeling today?”
“Same as usual.”
“That is unfortunate,” says the lawyer, handing Otto a glass. “I suppose, then, that you are not yet ready to confess?”
Otto shakes his head and Spiegel sighs, steeples his fingers. The attorney wants to avoid a protracted trial; it’ll be bad for his reputation.
“This will not do,” he continues. “Your guilt is not up for debate. The crimes that you committed…”
“It wasn’t me,” says Otto. “I’m snow-white.” He’s slipping back into deltaspeek, it’s the pressure.
His attorney doesn’t like that, has warned him before about using a common dialect.
Spiegel scoffs, gurning dentures. “We have been over this time and time again, Otto…”
“It wasn’t me,” says Otto, like repetition will make the words come true.
“You are a genetic duplicate,” says Spiegel, wishing that he could be back at home with his prized orchids. He must have explained a thousand times, but Otto never seems to take it in. “Your template could not stand trial — such an unfortunate accident — but you can. Justice will be served.”
“But…” Otto burrows deeper into the faux-leather chair.
“You remember committing the crimes.” It’s a statement, not a question. Otto can’t refute it either.
He remembers it all, blade hitting bone, the smell of fear, the sound of—
“I don’t want to brain about it,” he murmurs, feeling sick.
“You have a genetic destiny to reproduce that behaviour, Otto,” says Spiegel. “Can you blame us for wanting to see you behind bars?”
The trial begins a week later in one of the smaller courthouses, the kind they use for tele-trials.
It’ll have an execution chamber attached. That way, the reporters don’t need to move their cameras far to document the aftermath of the trial. None of this exactly fills Otto with hope.
He’s allowed to do a speech — it’s regulation, says Spiegel, to make the whole thing look less like a predetermined show trial — but first he’s got to sit through the prosecution’s evidence. Even he’s got to admit that it’s all pretty damning. There’s DNA analysis, witness reports, psychoanalytical projections.
Otto isn’t sure how to react to it all, so he just stares at the ceiling. Like the rest of the courthouse it’s built from materials reclaimed from the Post-Atomic Crunch, drenched in an unconvincing plasti-stucco veneer.
Before the speech there’s a short recess. He spends it with Spiegel, discussing tactics.
“There is no need to give up yet,” says the attorney. “We have evidence of our own. You will not receive the death penalty. You were not in your right mind.”
“You want me saying I’m lobe-tangled?”
“It would be… expedient.”
“For both of us.”
“But it’s fakey,” protests Otto. “Just because I got the remembers, don’t mean I did the crimes.”
“We are all the sum of our memories, Otto,” says Spiegel wearily. “The judge has already decided on your guilt, but not on your punishment. Use your speech to plead insanity. Make things easier for yourself.”
“But what if that still don’t work?”
“I might have a trick or two up my sleeve,” promises Spiegel.
In the end, Otto pleads insanity and Spiegel gets him off by exploiting a legal loophole. Otto still has to spend the rest of his life in a padded cell, but it’s better than the alternative. Spiegel counts the outcome as a victory.
“I didn’t like untruthing them,” says Otto, when Spiegel comes to visit him at the re-education centre. “I should’ve told them I was a forgery, not a rusty-nerved authentic.”
“I do not know why you insist on clinging to this delusion, Otto. Your admittance of guilt proves that you know yourself to be real.”
Otto shakes his head. “I don’t feel real.”
“This is why we put our faith in the state,” says Spiegel. “Alone, we cannot hope to define what is real, or what is right, or what is wrong. The state exists to help us separate fact from fiction, to distinguish the authentic from the inauthentic. Its castes and categories give us definition.”
There’s a fly buzzing around the cell. It lands on Otto’s forearm, setting off a goosebump minefield. For a fraction of a second he sees himself crushing it, squeezing its guts out, obliterating it. Leaving nothing but an ugly smear of black-grey-red across his skin, feeling the visceral crunch (do flies have bones that crunch?), wielding power over this little life, a resurgence of memories and then…
And then he relents, chokes the urge, doesn’t give in to the vice-strong grip of destiny.
“But what if the topdogs get it wrong?” he asks very, very quietly.
Spiegel smiles thinly. “There is no risk of that,” he says, as the fly buzzes away, unharmed.
James Maddox is a student and wannabe author. He’s currently studying English at Manchester Metropolitan University and has had a few other SF stories published here and there.