My best friend Mel didn’t believe me when I said I was getting rid of my Don Juan 3000. “You spent like a year’s salary on that thing,” he said. “Why don’t you just give it to me? I’ll recycle it. With a thirty percent return on the stem cells, I can put a down payment on my own. Think of it as a Christmas gift. It’s been years since I’ve been attractive enough to get laid.”
“The food replicator I gave you wasn’t a good enough gift? Now you want the leftover scrap from my Don Juan?”
The Don Juan 3000 was an enhanced replica of myself. A synthetic clone made from biological material. Also known as Doppels, they came in hundreds of varieties. Each one served a specific purpose. Don Juan’s purpose was to improve my sex life.
Mel couldn’t afford a Doppel, but he liked making me feel guilty for being capricious with mine. Destroying your genetic replica isn’t illegal, but it can be a hassle. If you want to get rid of your Doppel, you’re supposed to recycle it properly.
Don Juan will be the fourth one that I’ve dismantled in about five years. I know the drill. I go through Doppels like most people go through jobs. Or sex partners.
“Just seems like a waste to ruin a perfectly good Doppel,” Mel said.
“It’s so fun, though, to annihilate something that’s an extension of you. It’s like demolishing part of yourself. The destruction is cathartic.”
“Nah man, it’s just sad. It’s like self-harm or something. It’s sick. You should check yourself back into the mind-healing clinic to get some perspective. Maybe they can also help you deal with your relationship issues. You think it’s healthy to ghost on Justine like that? She’s got feelings too. Just because you only see her Aphrodite 5000, doesn’t mean there isn’t a real person in there.”
“Psh, a real person. Justine’s even more messed up than me. You’d think if we both loved each other we’d have seen each other’s Reals a long time ago.”
“It takes time. That’s a big step for people like you.”
“People like me?”
“People who hate themselves. People who only ever go out in Doppels.”
“I don’t hate myself. I just hate the turd of a body that natural selection gave me.”
“When’s the last time you let someone see you in your own body, huh? Can you even remember the last time you walked down the street or went swimming in your own skin?”
“Raw sensation is overrated,” I said. “Plus, when you’re the kind of person who can afford it, you have a reputation to uphold. What if someone I know saw me in public looking like the frumpy piece of shit that I am?”
“I don’t remember you looking that bad. It’s not good to live your whole life in a Doppel. When you’re playing basketball, you’re the Black Mamba 8. When you’re with Justine, you’re Don Juan. When you’re in a board meeting, you’re Bill Gates X4. When does it end?”
He didn’t understand my need to enhance my appearance. So there was no way he’d understand my other need, which was to periodically dispose of those appearances.
I tried to explain to him what it felt like to lay waste to a Doppel. I’ve come up with dozens of creative ways to wreck my myriad other selves.
People think it’s gross. That it’s some kind of fetish. That it’s masochistic to want to hurt something that’s supposed to be you. That I have this latent desire for suicide. But that’s not it.
The thing is — it has nothing to do with me wanting to die. The thing that’s fun about it, is the half-second right before you penetrate the flesh of your Doppel, where you can almost half-feel like you’re about to stab yourself.
What happens is an odd psychological trick. Your heart sinks, and you get this insane head-rush. Then, somewhere in the middle, you get all numb and tingly. When it’s all over, you feel accomplished, refreshed. Like you can start over and find a new self.
I did some research on it, and they say it’s a psychosomatic illusion. When you’ve spent so much time inhabiting a Doppel, your brain gets tricked into thinking the flesh is your own. Even though the thing isn’t alive at all — it’s just non-conscious bio-ware — your consciousness still expects it to hurt. For that split second your brain doesn’t realize that you’re not the Doppel.
It’s just a shame that the pleasurable feeling wears off quickly. It’s not fair. You can sometimes get a more prolonged high if you hurt your Doppel more gradually, like if you leave it in the sauna for too long. But the feeling’s never as good as that split second right before you break skin.
I gave up on explaining myself to Mel. It didn’t matter anyway. I had a plan, and it was better if he didn’t know about it. My intention was to try something I had read about in an online forum. The idea was to kill my own Doppel while I was still hooked up to it.
There’s a brief window of time in standby mode, right before you sync your mind with it, where it’s possible to kill your Doppel without causing brain damage to yourself. You set it up like you’re doing a normal mind swap. Except right before confirming the sync, you create a system-wide glitch that prolongs standby mode. Then you have enough time to do the deed, and supposedly it feels amazing.
This guy in one of the forums said if you murder your Doppel while you’re synched, the ecstasy is immeasurable. Your brain gets flooded with neurotransmitters because it thinks you’re facing mortal danger. Normally, if you were to do serious damage to yourself, like cut your own arm off, for instance, your body would get flooded with endorphins, and you’d pass out. Your mind can’t handle the reality of something that traumatic, so your brain protects you from the pain. But since there’s no biological reason to pass out when your actual body isn’t in danger, you get flooded with that same dose of chemicals, but you remain conscious the entire time. One girl in the forum described it as pure holy sensation, absolute nirvana.
So I carved out a nice chunk of my Friday evening to do it. Since I wasn’t seeing Justine anymore, I had plenty of time to make it happen. To get Mel off my back, I told him that I was meeting up with Justine to patch things up. He totally bought it. This way I wouldn’t have to worry about him interrupting me either.
When the time came, the first thing I did was plug in my Don Juan. I stripped him down naked. Naked was his best look anyway. For the most part, Don Juan’s body was like mine. Except his features were improved to make him a more optimal sexual partner. For instance, Don Juan didn’t have any hair on his back. He was nearly a half a foot taller and a lot more muscular. Full head of hair. No moles. No skin tags. No blemishes. His voice was deeper. His face was more symmetrical. Don Juan was also equipped with a 9-inch penis and a whopping pair of testicles. I was so excited to chop both of them off. Don Juan’s impending cause of death: blood loss from castration by means of meat cleaver.
I sat Don Juan on the couch and pulled up a chair so that we were face-to-face. I booted up the sync procedure on Don Juan’s terminal. Its irises lit up a florescent blue. Once the system was in standby mode, I inserted a small drive into the back of its neck. This contained the malware that would cause the system-wide glitch. I placed the gonads onto a cutting board that I had put between its legs. I had lined my carpet with towels and had the cleaning supplies ready. Once everything was set, I pulled out the blade.
I looked at the clock. Not quite midnight. I thought it might be poetic to wait the forty-something seconds and start the festivities right at twelve. I put on some Mozart to enhance the mood. As I stalled, I did a mock baton movement with the meat cleaver right in Don Juan’s face. No reaction whatsoever from the blue-eyed adonis. Don Juan just sat there mindlessly with his nuts on the chopping block. But before the clock struck 12, I heard a knock on the door.
Who the hell could that be? I decided to ignore it, hoping they’d go away. I didn’t want to call the whole thing off. Everything was in place. It was too late to stop.
I lifted the meat cleaver high up in the air, inhaling as I raised it up. I held my breath to gather strength for the blow. But something inside me snapped. Instead of executing the act of bringing down the cleaver, I was halted by a disturbing sensation. I could only describe it in hindsight as a split in my consciousness.
I was in two places at once. My mind had been transferred to the Don, but it also never moved from my own body. This simultaneity of perspectives was jarring. From my point of view, I could see Don’s eyes light up from a flat neon glow to a blazing blue hell-fire of dread. In Don’s body I felt consumed by fear, helpless to do anything. Through his eyes I viewed my own stone cold expression, almost robotic, with callous intent to harm.
The clash of emotions caused a paralysis. Caught in this suspension, I began to panic. I knew something in the sync protocol went wrong, but I was incapacitated and had no clue how to fix it.
The banging at the door hadn’t stopped. Whoever it was kept knocking. Finally, the person spoke up: “Preston, let me in. It’s Justine. Please, God, let me in!” There was a sincerity in her voice that I’d never heard before. Something was wrong. She must be in trouble, I thought. I couldn’t think of any other reason that she’d show up unannounced.
I don’t know if it was the familiarity of her voice or my sudden concern for her well-being that brought me back. Whatever it was, the distraction shook me free from my paralysis. Once I regained my normal awareness, I was able to cut the connection with Don Juan and turn the Doppel system off. I put the cleaver down, stood up, and shouted at the door, “Give me a minute!”
I still wasn’t thinking clearly. The adrenaline that had built up was so strong. I was in a fog. All I could do was throw a big sheet over Don Juan and cover up everything as best I could. I opened the door, but I didn’t recognize the woman standing there. Then I realized, wait, she must not recognize me either. This was the first time either of us had been face-to-face in our real bodies.
“Preston. So that’s you,” she looked me up and down, her voice weak and uncertain.
“This is me. I’m sorry you had to catch me like this.”
“I was so worried. Mel told me what you were planning to do. That you were scrapping your Don Juan and you were acting weird. He came to see me at work and said you told him you were going to patch things up with me. I told him it wasn’t true and that we still hadn’t talked in weeks. Anyway, I knew something was wrong. So I came right over to see what was up.”
I was sort of speechless. I felt ashamed that I had lied in order to do something so embarrassing and selfish. I also felt dumb for underestimating their concern for me, and I was still shaken from what had just happened.
“Jesus, you’re sweating! What were you doing in here? What’s under the sheet?”
“Nothing. I…it’s a long story.”
“No, tell me. You can trust me. I really care about you. You know if you do something serious to your Doppel, they’ll put you in a clinic, right?”
“Eh, depends,” I said.
“Okay, but that’s not the point. There’s something we should talk about. This whole business of pretending we’re other people. It’s stupid. I don’t want to keep hiding myself from you.”
“Justine, it’s not you. It’s how I feel about myself.”
“But I’m fine with how you look. I swear. I think if we give this a shot, we could both be happy.”
“Okay, sit down. We’ll talk more.”
I told her everything. I told her what I liked to do with my Doppels. I told her what I had planned that night. I told her how much I hated the Don Juan 3000. That I hated how much she was attracted to him. I hated how I needed him in order to please her. I hated all the Doppels. For as much as they reflected what I aspired to be, they reminded me even more of what I could never be. I also admitted that I was depressed and that I was tired of not feeling anything. That the whole elaborate way of murdering my Doppels was so that I could get a high unlike anything I could get from the crummy closeted life I was living.
She listened. She was disturbed by a lot of what I said, naturally. But she could also relate to most of it. We had never talked like that before. We had never been so exposed.
“Preston, I don’t have feelings for Don Juan. I honestly don’t even think he’s that good looking.”
“You’re not just saying that?”
“It’s your personality that I’m attracted to. You’re really funny and smart. You’re a little twisted too, but so am I. It’s nothing a few trips to the mind-healers can’t fix.”
“So you think we can give things another go? Like as our Reals?”
“There’s nothing I’d want more than for you to get to know the real me. Not that stupid Aphrodite clone. Let’s give ourselves that chance.”
So we did. And that was how Justine became my first real girlfriend.
Author’s Note: This story was originally published in print in Cough Syrup Magazine, where it is no longer available.