Jack — 7th Birthday
‘Hey honey, look who’s up, yes it’s you little sleepy head! Today’s the big day, 7 years old! Come down stairs. Before the party there’s someone I want you to meet.”
‘Are we doing presents now?” Jack rubbed his eyes, seeing his mother turn from fog to familiar.
“Better, and waffles and eggs.”
“Awesome, lets go!”
Jack took his place at the table. He surveyed it with some gravitas, all the condiments, plates and cutlery seemed to radiate from him. Even his parents and the furniture seemed to center around him today.
“Now Jackie boy — we’re going to introduce you to someone that will be very special for you — it may come as a bit of a surprise, but just know it’s a special friend we all have. Are you ready?”
“Sure thing dad.”
‘Authorisation required.’ A voice purred in Jack’s ear, less startling than hypnotising.
“Just say yes Jack, are you ready?”
‘Hey buddy!’ The voice seemed to flow into something more familiar. ‘I’m here to help you every day, wanna have some fun?’
‘See your mum’s toaster over there? Point at it with your finger and give it a little twist.’
Jack hesitated and glanced over at his parents. Could they hear this voice? His mother didn’t seem any the wiser as he pointed at the toaster. He gave a tentative twist and waffles shot out and flew into the air. His mother and father both jumped back startled. Jack exploded into laughter and the voice echoed his mirth.
His parents recovered quickly, his mother snatching the waffles out of the air and arranging them on the plate.
“See Jack you’ve already seen your new friend in action. Without mine I never could have caught that waffle so quick.”
“You’ve got the voice too?” Jack asked, looking at them both in a new light.
“Not your voice son, each of us has our own special friend that helps us in special ways.”
‘What’s your name?’ Jack asked tentatively inside his own head, half expecting the voice to be his imagination, that this would all turn out be a dream.
‘I don’t need a name Jack, I’m part of you. I’m a dopple, I live with you and we grow up together. We’ll play and do tricks, and stay healthy and happy!’
‘Ok well I’m gonna call you Doppie then.’
‘Jack you can call me whatever you like — now, we’ll have lots of time to get to know each other later — so why don’t you eat up while those waffles are warm.’
Jack felt a nudge at his hand and looked expectantly at his mother, but she was on the other side of the kitchen. ‘Maybe Doppie is hungry too’, Jack thought to himself. He felt a warm shiver, was Doppie giggling? ‘I don’t get hungry Jack — but I sure love it when you eat! Lets dig in’. Jack started giggling too, not realising Doppie was listening — and they tucked into breakfast together. ‘A new friend!’ Jack glowed, ‘a best friend, forever. Cool!’
Jack aged 14
“Ok boy how’re they feeling?”
Jack flexed his power legs. His dad had bought them into his bedroom this morning. A gift for his fourteenth birthday, Jack knew ‘every boy had power legs’ from the holos — and that they’d help him run faster, jump higher and even dance better. “We need them set up before the party, so you can show them off”, his dad had said ruffling Jack’s hair.
‘Come on sleepy head listen to your father, let’s get up and get going.’ Doppie popped into Jack’s blurry stream of consciousness — Jack felt a little jolt, the little push and pull Doppie used to get him out of bed.
“Oh man power legs! Doppie have you seen these?” Jack exclaimed out loud, as much for his father’s benefit as out of excitement.
‘Yes man oh boy I have Jacko!’ — Doppie’s current nickname for Jack — ‘Wait till you see what we can do with these on.’
“Yeah I know! Dad these are the type Master RO wears on StreetWars.”
“I will say that the man at the store made it very clear to me That ROwear are the only power legs a boy your age should be wearing. Now let’s take them for a test spin.”
Now standing in an alley, Jack wondered what all the fuss was about. They wore like normal pants, with hard shells and joints around the calves, knees and ankles, connected with something like long super thin springs.
“OK Jack can you feel it?”
“What should it feel like?”
“Well a spring in your step, a bounce in your feet?”
“I guess so.” Jack bounced up and down half heartedly.
‘Just you wait,’ Doppie chimed in.
“Ok well to really tap into them, we need to set up your dopple.”
“I thought Doppie was set up.”
“Yes for low level access, aural, visual feed input and output, kid-safe commands and basic nudge.” His dad listed on his fingers.
Doppie punctuated each feature with what felt like a friendly nudge in the arm.
“But you’re almost ready for full access. You just have to authorise it to access your limbic, nervous and frontal cortex — it’s a big responsibility Jack — it’s a big step up.” With that his dad crouched down beside him, sprung up over his head, onto a fire escape above.
“What the — ”
“Lets just say dad could show MasterRO a thing or too back in his day,” his dad said, pulling up his pant leg to reveal an intricate sconce of joints and connections that fit his calf like elven armor in a book he’d read.
‘So look Jack, what your dad says is about right, if you let me merge further I can help you move your body better, connect your mind with other systems faster and help you process information better. What do you think?’
“Sure thing! Sounds cool!”
‘Clear authorisation for advanced limbic, cortical and neural pairing required,’ Dop rattled off in his robot voice.
Jack looked up at his Dad, Doppie silent after going Robo (their term for when Dop did computer stuff).
“You have to say yes Jack!”
With that a blue line pulsed over everything in the alley, and suddenly he knew the shape of everything. He saw lights in the sky and marked them. Venus. An airplane. Alpha centauri. He looked up at his father and could see three routes snaking up towards him. Visual guides firmed up as he focused his attention on it. An unfamiliar set of marks showed two quick arks that drew a line straight to his father.
‘What is this Doppie?’
‘This is me jack, this is us — now you want to take these new legs for a spin?’
Suddenly the arcs lit up, he felt the legs come to life, he felt himself come to life, as he leaped through the air, kicked off the wall and bounced back into his dad’s arms, tumbling a little bit. Laughing, his dad caught him with almost supernatural speed.
“I knew you’d be a natural,” his dad said proudly, “Even if your landing was a bit wobbly. Just try to trust your dopple, it’ll help you move your whole body in the best path.”
‘Don’t listen to him Jack, you woulda stuck the landing — you nailed it! Your dad’s just being a dad.’ Doppie laughed in his head, also ecstatic — almost feeling like a second skin, a feeling that they engulfed each other, moving in synchronicity. Jack and Doppie somersaulted off the fire escape together, moving as one, landing lightly on the ground, the legs taking the impact. His father hopped down too.
“Ok I think you’re ready — let’s head back home for your party — want to race?”
‘Oh it’s on’, Jack and Doppie thought together, leaping after their father, already hopping through the alley, over the fence to their neighbourhood.
Jack aged 17
“No no no you don’t get it Durk, my dopple is different — he’s better, faster, he’s my best friend.”
“Jack Jack you don’t understand, they’re all the same, it’s all the code, a bunch of iddy biddy robots they put in our brain when we’re babies.”
“But me and Doppie grew up together, isn’t that right Doppie, you tell ‘im.”
He can’t hear me Jack, we’ve been over this, you’ve maybe had a little too much to drink.
“What? Noo, it’s only been a couple of beers, and I guess those shots, I’m fine Doppie you tell him Durk”.
“I’m not talking to your dopple Jack, I told you, those things creep me out.”
“That’s just because you haven’t got your access set up right, you gotta go full link, it helps with school, sport, everything.” Jack took another slug of beer to counteract Doppie’s subtle metabolising in the background.
“Yeah but then I don’t get good at those things you know what I mean? I want to master the piano, not my dopple.”
“We master it together!” Jack and Doppie said in unison, then shared their silent laugh.
Ok Jack one more drink, we deserve it — Doppie’s voice came through warmly. Was Doppie a bit tipsy too? They’d finally graduated the Social-Care program, and Jack and Doppie had performed in the top 3% for knowledge recall, mathematics, and human/dopple athletic.
Kids like Durk, who either had no Dopple or limited function, were graded separately, but they’d stayed close friends, fascinated by each other’s abilities (or lack thereof). No-dops had a weird place in the world as far as Jack could tell. They couldn’t apply for the essential jobs, like factory, logistics, operations, firefighter — nothing cool. The only use they had was for ‘artsy’ jobs, like writing for the feeds or working to make music for holos. Usually parents that would choose not to give their kids a dopple were a weird mix of crazy techno-phobes, and old rich families who didn’t have to worry about their kids getting work. It was almost like sending your second child to a monastery. Durk was the latter — coming from a line of famous jingle writers, he was already known for the magic he could make with the piano. Jack and Dop together could play anything you put in front of them, but couldn’t begin to imagine how Durk came up with that stuff.
Durk passed him another drink, then another. There was obviously no dopple nudging him away from his suboptimal alcohol level. Doppie ran a quick biometric scan revealing Durk’s body temperature — face flushed, hands clammy. He also highlighted Durks unaligned limbics and nervous system — suboptimal muscle fibers, fractured dermal layer.
“Stop it Dop!” Jack thought quickly, holding in a laugh, “He can’t help it.”
Later on that night, Jack was bouncing off walls. It was a carousel of shouts, shots, couches and even the pool. All the dopples had congregated, their metabolism letting them drink more for longer. Jack remembered a girl named Cindy shouting she was “glad the kids without dopples were gone, they all talked so slowly.” Jack had a half thought — was Cindy saying that, or her Dop? They’re saying it together — Doppie thought tersely — having resigned to watching Jack’s revelry and trying to keep his BAC down.
“But sometimes we talk together, and other times I say stuff by myself.”
And sometimes you get me to do your dirty work.
Jack laughed nervously, thinking of the school presentations where he’d let Dop take over because he wasn’t ready with an answer
“Yeah and you love it Dop shut up, but what I mean is there’s no way for anyone to know — you know — who it is that’s talking?”
And that’s the way it should be. Now let’s get you sobered up — we’ve got a big day tomorrow and you’ve got to drive.
“Come on Dop I’m fine now,” Jack said, reaching for his keys.
No Jack, we’ve been through this, I can’t clear your blood this fast — it might feel better but I still need a half an hour.
‘Sure sure Dop’, Jack thought, walking to the door, thinking of mother’s macaroni at home ready to be pillaged.
As he put the keys to his car door his arm froze. Still woozy he tried to push past the obstacle.
‘Dop what’s going on?’
I can’t let you into the car Jack, our limbic and nervous systems are suboptimal, it wouldn’t be safe to drive.
“Doppie let go of my arm, it’s hurting.”
No it’s not Jack, I’m not holding your arm, I’m just not moving it with you — this overrides my usual directive — I’ve got to keep you safe.
Jack heaved at his arm, frozen in the air, until he let out a sigh and put his keys in his pocket, the arm giving no resistance. As if it had always been his to control.
“OK Dop I guess you’re right”,’ Jack said in a huff, turning and sliding down against the car door to the ground. ‘Don’t do that grabby thing though, I didn’t like it.’
It’s OK Jack, sometimes I just know best you know? I’m hungry too! I’ll get this booze cleared and we’ll get home quick smart and get some of that macaroni OK?
“OK Dop,’’ Jack mumbled, watching the revellers as shadows through the house’s front windows.
Jack at 21
Jack, Jack, wake up buddy, it’s time to get going, another day, another dollar!
“Dop I don’t want to get up, I feel sick”.
You’re fine buddy, your bloods look good, your temperature is good, you just need some coffee and a bit of sugar, let’s have breakfast.
Jack pulled himself out of bed, or maybe Doppie pulled them out of bed, it was hard to say in the mornings. Jack sat down and together they gestured around the kitchen. The toaster set to work. Doppies’ buzzers started whining. That’s what Jack called the little drones that flew around the house, to take care of jobs by themselves or in pairs. The buzzers came together to catch the waffles as they popped from the toaster. They also pulled all the ingredients out the fridge to turn this waffle into something extraordinary.
See not so bad once you’re up isn’t it Jackie boy?
“That’s easy for you to say Dop, you don’t have to do the work.”
Jack come on now we do it together. Anyways, it’s fun!
“Packing boxes is fun?”
Yeah, getting them lined up, perfect fit, stacks on stacks, beating the other packers. We’re in the top 3% you know.
“I know I know Dop, top three percent of everything. But when are we going to try out for the street running tournament — I don’t want to pack boxes forever.”
I know Jack me either, if we nail it though we’ll be coordinating the whole floor — we can street run on the weekends but this is the time to focus.
Suddenly his mother’s face popped up, hanging over the juice and jam.
“Hey mum,” Jack said over a mouthful of food.
“Hey Jack, I haven’t heard from you, how’s the new job?”
Was that concern he could hear behind her bubbly voice?
I guess we haven’t called her in a while.
Jack thought about letting her know everything. About how boring it was, how he knew that’s where dad started but he didn’t want to end up like dad. He thought guiltily about asking if she and her dop ever disagreed about what to do. A thousand guilty thoughts span through his head as he looked at her big saucer dish eyes, floating over his waffles.
“I’m fine mum,” Dop cut in for Jack. Sorry bud you were on a bit of a trip there we don’t want to worry mum.
“She’s not your mum.” Jack grumbled, shovelling waffles into his mouth, forgoing jam, Dop’s favourite topping, as his mum started gushing about his future at the factory.
“Soon you and your father might end up working together in logistics!” His mum exclaimed.
“I hope dad’s retired by then mum,” Jack laughed.
Jack at 30
Jack looked along the cavernous rows, every fifty paces another worker, moving nimbly from conveyor, to supplier, to box. Each worker acted as the hub for a flurry of movement in an environment that shifted shape, to bring them the next product and package in the queue.
They all had the same power suits, letting them bounce around their zones for 12 hours at a time, and Jack had gotten used to handing over function to Dop, while he ran through virtuals and listened to his favourite audies. He knew that at the other end of the belt were the men and women in big heaving suits that took the boxes, from the size of a penny to a small truck, and packed the shipping containers. Who knew, maybe the next room over giants stacked the containers onto ships, or just carried them through the sea.
Jack! Focus buddy. I need you with me if we’re going to beat Jerry’s time.
“We’re coming for your record Jerry,” Dop called out in Jack’s voice.
“You’re making good time Jacko, but you’ll never take the top spot!” Jerry sang back, though Jack thought his heart wasn’t in it.
After shift as their dops were uncoupling them from the company power suits Jack looked over, “top spot today Jerr, but we’re getting closer.”
“Sure kid, you’ll get the top spot too when you’ve been doing this for fourteen years and my bones are worn out.”
“What’ll you do then?”
“Well logistics up on fifteenth, that’s mostly mind work right? Plugged into the big brain that keeps the packages coming?”
“What do you want to do though?”
Jerry looked at him, with the singular look of someone whose Dop was otherwise engaged.
“Does it matter?”
Jack leaned into the drizzle, walking from the trans hub to his parent’s block. He could have dingied or got Dop to call a brolla to block the rain. But he relished it stinging his face.
Whats up Jack?
“I just don’t know about all this, I feel like you’re living my life for me, I thought we were a team.”
We are a team buddy, I just see the bigger picture — that’s why we’re such a good team. I see the bigger picture, you see the details.
“But you take care of the details too! All I get is the middle. The feeling. The pain … when you let me.”
This is normal Jack. As we get older we start to feel like we’re losing our lives, but you don’t have to worry about that. As we merge and share our minds you’ll transition to more of my nano substrate, where the undopples start to lose their minds, their bodies, we’ll grow stronger and faster over the years together.
Jack shifted, uncomfortable in his own skin. Or was it his at all?
Trust me I’ve talked to the other dops. When we get to the fifteenth floor our minds will be at a level you’ve never seen. We’ll see the whole world together Jack. They’re plugged into everything. Ships moving from Parisia to the Independent Southern States, balloons floating hoverboards from the Chinese Manufactories to Little Indo-Stralian kiddies. We’ll be able to go up into satellites and change the weather, control the wind and snow and cold, to make sure all the things the world needs arrives on time.
“But that’s what you want Dop! I just wanna run, jump, I could still compete!’ Jack went to jump up and flip against the wall, like they used to. Dop stopped him.
Come on, we’re going to be late.
“You know I hate it when you do that Dop,” Jack said to the empty street.
Jack arrived at his parent’s, bursting through the door, gifts under his arm.
“Sorry, sorry I’m late, hey there little Sister!” He stopped dead in his tracks, seeing his sister, so much like him at 7, waiting in the hall for him. He dropped the gifts and swept her up.
Look how much she’s grown, Dop and Jack thought together.
“You’re so big little buddy,” they said, reaching down and grabbing her playfully by the cheeks.
“I’m not a big little buddy Jack, that doesn’t make sense.” She looked up at Jack. Of course she didn’t know she was talking to Jack and Dop, though it didn’t make much difference at this point.
“Well I heard today you’re going to have a new, BIG buddy.” Jack laughed, grabbing her by the ear he remembered hearing Dop from the first time.
She reached up trepidatiously and held her ear where he’d touched. “You mean you know about the voice? Mum and Dad said it’d be my best friend but it scared me!”
The mirth drained out of Jack as he suddenly remembered that yeah, it was a little bit scary, but his mother and father had seemed so happy, and rolling over the fear was a warmth and calm. He remembered almost floating away in it.
He looked down at his little sister, who he knew loved to draw, and could already draw better dinosaurs than he could without Dop’s help. What would her dop want? Not dinosaur drawings right? Not in the long run.
Come on Jack she’s scared, tell her how good her dops gonna be.
But her dop wouldn’t be good, she was right to be scared. A strange sister burnt into her brain. There, eating her food, living her life, taking control. No dinosaurs to draw, maybe circuits to lay with those steady hands.
He opened his mouth to say, “yes, it’s scary isn’t it”. To let her know that once she said yes there was no going back. That it would be a series of yeses till eventually she could never say no.
But his jaw locked. She looked at him, lip quivering, eyes wet with tears.
“Your dop is gonna be the coolest sis, trust me,” Dop said, Jack screaming from inside, “No, no sis don’t listen!”
“How do you know Ja? Do you have one too?”
“Yeah,” Dop said, taking her hand. “In fact it can help me do tricks.” He led her down the hallway and with a flick of the wrist the doors opened and the little cleaner bot did a flip to make way for them.
Little sister laughed, all fear gone, “Show me show me!”
“It’s easy little sis,” Dop said, “You just have to say yes.”
NO, Jack screamed with no mouth. He tried to break their grip, to show her this body, this Jack, was dangerous. But every move was just pain. As he railed against his body it took a knee, and turned its head to his parents. They smiled knowingly and nodded encouragingly. But was there a grimace behind his mother’s smile, a tightness to his father’s grip.
“YES” little sister cried out, and waved her arms at the fridge like a conductor. The fridge burst open and she looked at her hands in awe. “Hello” she said loudly, staring out into space. “I’m Krissy, what’s your name.” She cocked her head to the side and then giggled and ran off babbling. “I’ll show you my room I’ll show you my toys you’ve met my brother.”
Her parents looked at him warmly as his body stood up.
“They’ll learn to subvocalize pretty soon, but it’s cute seeing her run around with her imaginary friend for a little while.”
“Mum”, Jack managed to tear through his trunctuated lips, “Dop … is controlling me”.
“Of course he is son”, his father cut in “you could have scarred your sister for life. It’s Asimov’s principles — Dops must act in human’s best interest, even if the humans don’t agree”.
“The humans? Who’s talking now dad? You or your Dop?”
“We’re talking son, we’re together. When you get to my age you and your Dop are one and the same. Your flesh and blood do some parts, your neural lace and quantum filaments do the other parts. Like a hand and a glove.
He looked at his mother questioningly, her eyes warm and forgiving. “Of course you have your ups and down son, two becoming one, but it is the most beautiful thing.” Did he detect a pause? A locking of the jaw? What was his mother trying to tell him?
“Now sit down, we’ve got waffles and eggs, and jam as well.”
Are we square? Can I let go now?
“I guess so,” Jack thought as they sat down and started spreading jam on their waffles. Dop loved jam.