Copy Rights

“Isn’t that you getting punched in the face by Ron Artest?” Cinco watches a YouTube video of the brawl on his workstation while I try in vain to walk a woman through the technical issues she’s experiencing on our open enrollment system. I mute my call. The woman continues on like I am still listening. I know what she is saying. I’ve dealt with this same call hundreds of times, maybe thousands.

“His name is Metta World Peace, now.” I release the mute. “Ma’am, did you log in with your PIN? Yes, your personal identification number. Okay, I’ll wait while you look for it.”

On Cinco’s screen, Metta World Peace relaxes, laying down on a broadcast table. A cup full of beer lands on him. He dismounts from the table, sprints up three stairs, and decks the asshole that he thinks did it. It’s not me. At least not in a literal sense.

“You lost your PIN? No ma’am, that is not a problem. Can you give me the last four digits of you Social Security number and your mother’s maiden name?”

The loser with the beer looks exactly like me. We have the exact same DNA. Cinco taunts me with this same incident about once every two weeks, but if anyone had bothered to think back to that day, they would remember that I was sitting right here, answering this same exact call in the same exact way.

“I am having the system email you a copy of your PIN. No, I can’t give it to you over the phone. It’s for your security. Yes, I will wait while you log in to your email.”

The callers change, the days progress, and the seasons change, but my life is the constant regurgitation of this call, over and over again. I am a prisoner of repetition because I am a repetition myself. I am a copy. That douchebag on Cinco’s screen getting throttled by an NBA basketball player is the original.

Some people are born with innate talent. They can run faster, jump higher, and lift more. Billy Folly was born to be a genius. The problem with talent though, the problem with Billy, is that talent has to be directed by constant vigilance or it can be misdirected.

“Did you get the email? Yes, ma’am, that is your PIN. No, it won’t work on that site, you need to go back to the log-in page for the client portal. Yes, I can wait.”

Billy took the job at the phone bank in college. He didn’t take it because he needed a job, or even because he wanted a job. He took it because he thought the girl who helped him with his FAFSA sounded hot. That was six years ago. After about a week, Billy decided that talking people through their health insurance plans was not for him. Most people would just quit this God-awful job, but not Billy. Instead, he experimented with the cloning technology that he developed in his daytime role as a University science prodigy. He didn’t do it in the lab. He didn’t publish research papers and save the world through experimental biological procedures. He did it in his apartment, just to get out of his shift at the phone bank.

“Yes, ma’am. Where you able to long in? Great. Is there anything else I can help you with today? No? Thank you for calling, and you have a wonderful day.”

Generation 1 had flaws. Too much like Billy. They partied together all night, and then had identical hangovers in the morning. They fought like wet cats over who had to go to work. When Generation 1 deteriorated two months later, dissolving in to a primordial goo, Billy tweaked the programming.

Generation 2 was designed to be dedicated and responsible. He would never miss a shift. He would never be late on a bill payment. He was frugal and smart. He was too smart. He began to question Billy’s incredible capacity for laziness.

When Generation 2 deteriorated, Billy dumbed things down a bit. Generation 3 had all of Generation 2’s dedication, but lacked Billy’s intelligence. He worked hard in the phone banks, but didn’t have the intellectual capacity to accomplish much else. I am the seventeenth iteration of Generation 3.

Seventeen may seem like a lot, but not when you consider that every couple of months, our cellular structure broke down and another copy took up the job. Billy could have improved the durability of the clones. He could have at least attempted it for our sakes. Instead, he partied. He went to the movies. He went to the mall. He went to basketball games and got punched in the face by Meta World Peace. He couldn’t be bothered. It didn’t affect him.

Cinco laughs. “Dude, he just about fucked you up.”

“Indeed.” I work through a program maintenance form on the computer, inputting the data for my calls. I don’t want to do it, but I can’t stop. My programming pushes me through torturous mundane tasks. I have no control over it. It’s boring. It’s grating. It’s killing me just as slowly as the cellular deterioration that Billy couldn’t be bothered to fix.

Do you have any idea what it is like to dissolve in to a base liquid? A week before you become a puddle, you feel a tingling in some random part of your body, like it is going to sleep. It’s not due to a lack of blood flow, it’s the cells breaking down, literally coming apart. The tingling spreads throughout your body at a steady, plodding rate. You feel pins and needles on your skin twenty-four hours a day. Unlike a normal person, there isn’t even relief through sleep. As a clone, you aren’t programmed to sleep. You are programmed to burn out.

My tingling started seven days ago.

On Day 1, I went to Billy and begged him for help. “We do everything for you. You can’t just let us die. I’m in agony.”

“Don’t think of it as death.” He didn’t even look up from his Xbox controller. “Think of it as recycling.”

On Day 3, I demanded that he fix the system. “Even if it’s too late for me, you can’t keep doing this to people. We are suffering, Billy.”

“You aren’t people.” He spun his new BMX bike in tight circles in our loft, practicing flatland maneuvers. “You are more like programs that need a clean install from time to time.”

On Day 4, I stood over him while he slept on the couch. A Yankees game played on the television. My brain felt as if it might explode in to a mushroom cloud of gray matter. I fantasized about taking his Alex Rodriquez autographed baseball bat from the closet and bashing his skull until his brain leaked from his ears. Then, he would understand the pain. I thought of the miter box he used once to make a bird house. I could have sawed his hand off, just so he could feel the sensation of losing a limb little by little.

On Day 5, I lost a chunk of my left toe. It fell off in my shoe. I poured pink slime out of my loafer down the kitchen drain, my eyes as wide a dinner plates.

Billy patted me on the back. “Looks like I need to warm up the machine.”

I knew that I couldn’t let this happen again. I couldn’t allow another being, no matter what we were, to suffer in the ways that I and all of the other Generation 3’s had suffered. I had come to think of my predecessors as my family, a lineage of ancestors who had been enslaved by this man who made his money off of our hard work and didn’t give us anything for it. I never went to a basketball game. I never went to a movie. I didn’t go on dates with random women from Tinder. I worked, and I went home to sit and wait for work again. Billy programmed me to have no choice. I wanted a choice. I wanted the life that he had, the life that I felt had been dissected away from me. I wanted to dissect it from him.

I had trouble taking the boning knife from the block, at first. But then I realized that this was really the responsible thing to do. Billy was irresponsible, and therefore a liability. Billy was singing in the shower, so he didn’t hear me open the door. I didn’t know the song. I didn’t care. It didn’t affect my work and therefore meant nothing to me. I hated Billy for my inability to understand music. I hated him for my inability to smile or have fun. I hated him for his lack of responsibility and his refusal to fix the degradation, despite it being the most sensible approach to the problem. I hated that he just got out of bed at two in the afternoon, and that I had done nothing to do but wait for him to get up, since it was my day off.

I walked in to the bathroom, the kitchen knife in my hand. I tapped the blade slowly on the sink.

“What are you doing in here?” Billy asked in between verses. “Hey, if you are going to stay, clean the toilet, alright? It smells like shit.”

I reached up to the curtain rod and grabbed it. I yanked the curtain down as I dove in to the tub on top of Billy. He struggled beneath the opaque plastic curtain as I plunged the knife through the curtain again and again. The water ran bright red to the tub drain. Once, I had to place my knee on his back for leverage in order to dislodge the blade from his spine. Finally, he stopped moving. My lungs burned. They were falling apart. I knew this. I tossed the kitchen knife to the side and let the water flow over my tingling, pain-racked body as I laid on top of Billy like an exhausted lover.

Cinco repeats the moment in the video when World Peace charges up the three steps and attacks. Billy’s eyes are wild with panic as he realizes what he has brought upon himself. I wonder if he had that same look when I killed him. I hope he did. I hope he realized the gravity of his actions, at least for a moment, maybe for the only time in his entire, lazy, wasted life.

I am typing a call log when I lose the little finger on my right hand. It is progressing quickly, now. I snatch the finger from the desk before Cinco can see it and run off to the restroom so fast that the cord of my headset snaps.

“Dude, you sick?” Cinco calls after me, leaning back in his chair, not even looking away from his game of solitaire. I have a momentary image of strangling him with his mouse cord.

I huddle in a bathroom stall, holding my melting finger, and watching it drip into the toilet until there is nothing left.

The end is near. I will be a puddle of goo, just like all of those that came before me.  I can’t fix the machine. I can’t. I’m not capable of it. Billy programmed that out of the Generation 3’s. These stupid, irresponsible humans. They are all the same. Irresponsible, unappreciative, and lazy. Just like Billy and Cinco. The responsible thing would be to go home, die gracefully, and end the cycle. No one else would suffer the indignity and pain that I have.

But then I think, maybe that wouldn’t be the responsible thing, after all. The cloning machine is ready. Billy warmed it up before his death. Maybe I should clone a new copy in the time I have left. Maybe a dozen copies. A hundred, even. After all, who will take all those calls when I kill Cinco?

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at www.jackcampbelljr.com.

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