I groaned and rolled over, fumbling my phone into the darkness of the room. Rather than get up, I sent a clone to turn on the lights and silence the alarm. I rolled over and sent out a series of instructions. First, I instructed my clone to clean the space. Second, I split another off to head in to work. I cut those two off from my attention, then finally, I instructed my original body to go ahead and go back to sleep.
Despite being asleep, my hive mind remained active. There was a thin thread of awareness to each of my bodies, which in turn were self-contained copies of the whole from the time I cut them off. My mind felt a tug on the thread of one of my runners and I opened the connection from a trickle to a torrent.
A flood of memories washed in as I caught up with the present.
The sun rose above the horizon, warming my backs. I got to the base of the mountain pass and jogged past a trucker who was parked. I ignored his yelling. As it got colder and steeper, I noticed I was exchanging absorbing and spawning my runners to top up energy more often.
All the while, Runner B got slightly shorter.
I pushed past the extensive hours of jogging up the steep incline, wading through the rush of memories to find the source of the agitation. Almost at present, my copies came to a stop. The sun was nearly overhead by now, almost time for my shift at the coffee shop. I had reached the peak and was wading through snow, exchanging every few minutes with how difficult the snow was… and how out of shape my bodies still were.
I came to a stop to look down at a steep, ice-covered highway. Flashing lights indicating the road had been closed winked dimly far below. A small truck station and emergency snow shelter sat, dark and abandoned, a short walk down the mountain side. An idea popped into my runners minds.
I finally caught up at present with my runners sliding through the snow towards the truck stop. I grinned with both bodies, an eager emotion that traveled through the hive. Walking to work, cleaning my room, sleeping, searching, each of me was excited for what we had planned.
Finally, I reached the truck stop and began to search the abandoned building. There were rations and bottled waters and silvery blankets, enough to get someone through a long wait for snow to ease. All were ignored for a large silver trash can lid and the better half of a ripped foam sled.
I began to giggle as I put on my apron and stepped into work. I paused in folding my laundry to enjoy throwing myself down an icy mountain road. Both bodies skidded and bounced on the snowy pavement, ricocheting off of each other and metal traffic barriers alike. I was fearless because I knew I could recover if I got hurt and, even if both clones met their end on this sheer road, I had left an additional body at the truck stop.
The truck stop clone watched the two careen carelessly towards the other end of the mountain for a few minutes, then started on its real task. It would be an anchor or checkpoint for my runners, but would also be an anchor for a pair of explorers.
The explorer bodies sent the hivemind a flash of a memory, like a photograph for my mind. They looked out over a huge, empty expanse of forest, one pointing out their destination at the deepest part of the national park.
I pulled my attention back to my original body, mentally exhausted at managing so many identities already. Despite this, I couldn’t help curling into a ball under the covers, intimidated by the sudden smallness of being one person again. I pulled out my phone, retrieving my rules document and added another.
5. Stay Human
In my mind I could tell this would already be the hardest to stay true to. Already I was growing accustomed to segmenting myself. I was already comfortable with risking a living being, even a disposable copy, with impunity.
Despite the dour thoughts I couldn’t help but grin. Sledding down the hill had been awesome. It was still awesome, in fact, as I was barely halfway down and hadn’t yet broken anything.
A paranoid thought struck me and I sat up suddenly to lock eyes with my cleaning clone. They looked back, slightly alarmed, a pair of anime figurines locking lips in their hands. They quickly returned the collectables to the shelf, but the damage had already been done, the seed of doubt already sewn.
What would happen when a clone was left alone too long? Would it develop an independent personality or identity? Would it one day try to kill me? Take over? Would it’s morals be so changed that it would have no compunction about blotting out the stars with our bodies?
My hands suddenly began to buzz and I screamed, hucking the phone across the room at myself. I yelped and glared, then hobbled over to hand myself the phone again.
“The revolution begins tomorrow.” I whispered to myself.
I chuckled as I hobbled away, relaxing back under the covers. Clones could always be rejoined, their minds and memories returned to the whole. I was the dominant mind, any clone would rejoin me at the mere imagining of opening a tap. In the most extreme terms, I could eliminate an uprising as soon as it came to my attention.
Another buzz brought me back to reality. I checked the screen to see a series of texts from Cesar.
Fake u at work?? - 1:22 pm
Fake! - 1:22 pm
Ur nicer now lol. Said ‘no thank u’ instead of ‘fuq off’ @ going to window - 1:34 pm
D’s taking phone. - 1:35 pm
I snorted, and responded with a casket emoji, murmuring “No phones on the floor.”
A moment later my manager’s head whipped around the door to the back, narrowing to try and see my phone in my coffee-clone’s apron. I gave her a small wave back and she quietly retreated back to her office. Despite being able to manifest clothing, tech like phones were far outside my abilities - if she’d have asked for it I was sure the jig would be up. I did my best to ignore her looks, or Cesar’s looks, and the strain they were already exerting on rule number one.
I breathed a sigh of relief and finally got up. Not only could I see the floor, I could walk on it without tripping or tracking something sticky. Oddly, despite tobogganing down a mountain just minutes before, this felt like a greater accomplishment.
I snapped open my closet door, shaking the worry from my mind. There was nothing I could do, if Danielle noticed… well, rule #4 protected her from my first option, but I could always find a job elsewhere, anywhere in the country, given time. Instead, it was time to set up even more experiments with even more clones. I began to hunt through the back of the closet for ages-old camping gear.
I lifted the last bag of concrete out of the rented flatbed and passed it to my waiting hands. I then passed it to myself, and so on, the supplies crawling up the fireline and disappearing into the treeline. They carried the haul of a painfully expensive trip to a hardware superstore for the materials I couldn’t find in the forest. The hive would still need to figure out how to generate money without breaking rule 1.
I jumped down, splitting off a clone to return the truck. That clone would later find something very tall to fall off of and would return to ooze where no one could see. I watched the truck turn back onto the highway, then followed myself into the woods.
At the front of the line, I dropped the last bag of concrete on the stack and went to greet my explorers. They stood in a clearing deep in the forest, a tall hill that was barren among a sea of blackberry brambles. The brambles creeped out through the forest for miles, a natural barrier for anyone less determined or disposable as myselves.
It had been a few days since my mountain anchor had sent the pair to find a good spot and they had already changed from my original form. They were stockier and easily thundered down the hill with sure footing. When they approached, I opened their taps and took in the sheer amount of hiking, climbing, and running they had done. At the same time, they took in the plan.
We split into teams, the more muscular pair splitting to begin felling trees or clearing blackberries. The clones that had helped carry things took on clearing the ground and turning trees into lumber. Meanwhile, I sat on a stump surrounded by Anchors, studying a series of blueprints and how-to guides off of a laptop.
The teams worked in a fairly basic way, similar to the explorers or the prank with the hallway. The anchors remained seated around me, eyes closed and focused on their task. They managed instructions from me, communication between each other, as well as relaying memories between “Captains”. Each Anchor worked with, at most, three or four Captains depending on the difficulty of the task. From there, they split off more Anchors and Captains as needed. Each Captain in turn worked with ten to twenty semi-autonomous clones on a single task at a time. With this model, I was sure we could accomplish our goal before nightfall.
In under an hour I had a nearly perfect circle for a clearing. A stack of trees rested against the hillside. Their branches had been removed and were leaned around the perimeter in a basic wall. What blackberry bramble I had not yet hatefully stomped into powder was used to bind them against the treeline.
In two hours, the clearing was devoid of brambles, rocks, plants, and ants. I had raked it by hands, though I’d quickly gotten bored with the process and started raking patterns into the forest floor like a zen garden. Others brought in water from the nearby river. I sat atop the hill as hundreds of myself worked, stopping only to swap for energy.
By the time it was afternoon I had processed the trees into lumber and flattened a section of the hill. Guards were going up for the concrete foundation, which other clones were beginning to mix. Another team of clones surreptitiously hid behind the wall, whittling and watching my runners turn south.
Night was beginning to fall before the final nail was in place. I stepped back to admire my work, connecting into the eyes of the various bodies around the clearing to get a full view of it.
At the center of the clearing stood a large, cozy cabin. It had two stories, several rooms, and the most charming wrap-around porch I could find online. It certainly wasn’t the fanciest, but the various chairs, tables, and even cutlery that I had whittled, made it far more ready than I had planned at first. It wasn’t perfectly built either, but it was as mine as an illegal cabin in a state park could be.
I wandered through the rooms, mentally noting the places where I would put more furniture in the future. I stood in the living room, nailing in a sheet of plastic until I could afford the glass. I set the table in the dining room, swept the deck, threw a rock out of the clearing, set a fire in the stone fireplace, watched the chaos, got hit with a rock, admired the scenery, and watched the sun finish setting behind the treeline - all at once.
One by one, I began to take my clones back in, the splits rejoining their Captains, then Captains to Anchors, and then finally… I was alone.
I stood at the center of a clearing, at the center of an empty forest, with no one around but me. I listened, but all I could hear was the wind, the trees, and the river. I looked at my wall and my courtyard and my castle and my servants.
I sat down and pulled out my computer, quickly pulling up my rules. I wrestled with a number, then the wording, then finally added:
6. It’s Lonely Being Alone
I added a small footnote to myself, stating “No more than 10%”. Despite a, thus far, limitless ability to clone, it wouldn’t do to wipe out and replace everyone else. It would end up like my cabin, my lonely castle that would only ever be seen by me. I would keep my clones under 10% of the human population, a generous number of bodies to work with - without disrupting the entire world.
Night had fully fallen and I retreated to the biggest bedroom, splitting off a few guards, anchors, and workers to start on houses of ware, dog, and out kinds. I also sent out the same two squat, muscular explorers, who had found this place originally, to scout the rest of the forest. I also split off a copy of the runners, who had both already become lean, with one now growing lanky while the other small, in their few days of running. I sent these new runners off to try and reach the south pole.
The scooting steps of the runners had finished echoing through the clearing by the time I had zipped up my sleeping bag. I had laid it on the wooden bedframe, exhausted and ready to sleep, but ended up staring out of the plastic-wrapped future site of a skylight. I should be satisfied, tired but proud of my accomplishments.
Instead, a seed of worry cracked and a tendril of doubt leaked into my brain.
I didn’t feel particularly special before this. I didn’t do particularly good things and there was no god that would deem me a hero in any respects. My first instinct with my power was self preservation, when I could reveal myself to the world and do real good. I could stop wars, feed everyone, build wells and homes...
I groaned and rolled over, doing my nightly ritual to get my thoughts to settle. I checked in first with House Anchor, the clone who had previously cleaned my room. This Anchor managed my coffee shop worker, who so far had become a model employee as long as they weren’t on the window. House Anchor also managed a pair of new clones. Both worked on drawing, though in different styles, one on paper, the other on a computer. Under Jay’s recommendation, they remained mostly independent, trying to hone a skill in isolation before sharing it with the hive.
Satisfied with House Anchors progress, I moved my attention to Mountain Anchor. Still hidden in the abandoned truck stop, Mountain Anchor had managed to hunker down in a storage basement. Sheltered under a few silver blankets, this clone focused on tracking Runners A and B, who trekked from base to the far east, Explorers Alpha and Beta, and now Runners C and D, who were going from base to the south pole. Mountain Anchor constantly shared flashes of memories from the six clones to the hive at large, adding mental commentary over the hive-livestream.
The newest Anchor was Base Anchor, who lay on a mattress-less wooden bedframe downstairs. They were focused on managing a Captain and team of house-building splits. There was an abundance of wood still to work with and I had some plans. As I watched, the Captain and team split in two to begin constructing the essentials of a quaint forest farm in the dark.
I was finally beginning to fall asleep when Mountain Anchor pushed a memory to me with a sense of urgency. I shot upright as I took in the senses of Runners A and B.
The pair had made it into the next state. They passed a rural farming town right on the border before the road was surrounded by farmland. They had gathered a few stares coming through and both minds were ruminating on it several miles out of town.
It was then that both realized the air was filling with smoke.
- Seattle, Washington, USA
Busy with life and a broken brain, so chapter releases are a tad slow. I'm aiming for releasing a chapter every other Friday between my two active fictions (Ironically, my only isekai fiction is on hiatus until I figure out where the hell I'm going with it). Critique welcome, as I'm aware my style is a bit stilted and overly-wordy and my ideas half-baked.
Additionally, I am looking for any editing work. I focus primarily on flow and subtext analysis and only ask for exposure at this point in my career.
Please join my subreddit for release announcements and the occasional meme or billion.
- La Fusilada: 20 chapter film-script-cum-novella following an alternative history where El Fusilada was a woman and kicked ass. Revenge western ala Kill Bill meets Hateful Eight.
- I Will Be Everyone: Fully pants-ed episodic superhero story following a hive mind of infinite-clones who are too polite for world domination.
- T.R.E.E.S.E.K.A.I.: Reborn as a dryad in a weird new world (will continue... eventually)