Splitting Adam: Short Fiction and a Lesson in Rejection

I wrote a short story called "Splitting Adam". Rewrote it. I workshopped it on Critters.org to a bunch of strangers, very few of them professionals. I re-rewrote it. Then... I handed it over to my journalist friend for editing. I re-wrote it again.

When I finally worked up the nerve to send it out for publication I submitted it to Clarke's World. I was out celebrating my first step with friends that evening and before I finished my first drink, I I got the email that my story was rejected. It took them six hours to say: "Interesting concept, not well told." The rejection letter from Asimov's came by SASE after only a week... it went to my neighbor who opened it by mistake so my shame was semi-public. Accounting for the time it takes to mail things, my story didn't last a day in their offices either.

Maybe the re-writes killed it. I also had to admit, I don't read much short fiction, let alone any of the markets where I shopped this story. I wrote short fiction because I thought that was the stepping stone to becoming a novelist. That's simply not true, (many authors have never published short stories) but I believed it at the time.

Below is the entire story, Splitting Adam. It's 2,300 words that took over a month to finalize. That's the length of an average chapter in my book, which takes me less than a day to write. It's a quick quirky read that I think deserves to see the light of day.

Splitting Adam

 

The six of me could not agree on anything.

We knew one thing: The accidental exposure of our original self, Adam Whittier, to a Higgs field displaced his normal timeline and generated six identical Adams. We argued our next course of action for the better part of two hours. We paced furiously around the cluttered garage, tugging at our mousey brown hair. Our bald spots and love handles were more evident than I’d previously been willing to admit. My deodorant was no match for twelve arm pits and six unwashed green t-shirts during the afternoon heat of L.A. in August.

Adam Epsilon kicked an empty bottle of Mountain Dew at the smoldering wreckage of the matter replicator. The machine, which I spent the last year assembling in my spare time, lay in ruins—a burnt metal frame, the size of a phone booth covered in melted wires and cracked Plexiglas. Around it lay a blast zone which was quite possibly the remains of our former self.

Adam Beta and I were trying to replicate the mathematical model for our accidental discovery with little success on the whiteboard. We had more Greek letters than frat row and the diagrams resembled what Hawking might draw if he were a football coach for a rag-tag team of subatomic underdogs.

Beta and I were still the same rational person but Adams Alpha, Gamma, Zeta and Epsilon reacted differently to the accident. Epsilon was disturbed and pacing. Gamma became fixated on sexual experimentation and was attempting to document if getting drunk would make us more attractive.

Zeta and Alpha were vying for the privilege of being the primary self. I’d never found it easy to make myself do things I didn’t want to do and Alpha and Zeta were discovering it’s exponentially harder when you and yourself are separate individuals.

“Two of us can generate income from jobs, one can handle household maintenance and the other two can be dedicated to developing new projects,” Alpha explained.

“Naturally one of us has to manage these activities.” Zeta said.

Alpha puffed his chest proudly. “Since I materialized closest to the device, that makes me oldest by several picoseconds.” That interval was the only measurable difference between us.

“You just use that as an excuse to treat us like cheap copies,” said Zeta, who materialized farthest from the device. “We need to go public with this event, get funded and work toward selling these matter replicators. Can you imagine what the military would pay for this?”

“What if we can’t recreate it? Do you realize the level of legal nonsense we’d have to deal with by going public and having to explain why there are six of me? What about ID, Social Security numbers, taxes, credit scores?”

“You’re thinking too small. Besides, we all have IDs.” Zeta patted the wallet bulge in his back pocket. “In case you hadn’t noticed, it replicated our personal effects.”

“It was supposed to duplicate the bottle!” Epsilon yelled and booted the two-liter into the corner between the overflowing recycle bin and the dust-coated remains of the AI mainframe I built last summer. Poor DSXM; within seconds of achieving self-awareness it calculated the futility of existence and decompiled its operating kernel.

“A serendipitous discovery,” Alpha said, “That will be more advantageous if it’s kept secret.”

Epsilon locked his gaze with Alpha. “If we’re looking to gain advantage from this freak occurrence, we must consider euthanasia, storage of donor organs and preservation of the bodies for later study.”

As annoying as some of us were becoming, they were still me. Killing one of myselves still felt like murder; possibly even suicide.

Gamma offered me a beer as the other three fell into bickering. He eyed my upper arms as I sometimes do when I check myself out in the mirror. Whenever I was alone and drunk, I typically found my hands down the front of my trousers. This may have technically qualified as such a time but it hardly felt appropriate.

“The problem is that each of us has the exact same agenda,” Beta and I said simultaneously.”We’re just confused about the particulars. Let’s—”

“Things sucked before the accident,” Epsilon exclaimed angrily. “You really think our pathetic life is enough for six to share?”

“Is someone having a bad reaction to our antidepressants?” Zeta asked. I wasn’t always unhappy, but I was thirty-five, single and had nothing to show for my life besides several failed inventions. The other guys in my R&D division still made fun of me for my microwave hair dryer. Although the hair grew back, I’d earned the reputation as the guy who built the “zombie oven”.

Epsilon glared. “It’s like I’m staring into a funhouse mirror or hearing my voice on the answering machine.”

“After three beers, subject appears 50% more irresistible….” Gamma flexed provocatively. He was starting to slur his speech. It became painfully evident to the remainder of us why I’d had such little success with women. He licked his lips. “Let’s do this.”

“Can you do— that— privately?” Alpha averted his eyes.

“It’s nothing we haven’t seen, or done thousands of times,” Zeta said, obviously starting to consider it after his second beer.

“Besides, it’s not like we haven’t tried before,” Gamma said, “Remember that time I bought those yoga DVDs so I could learn to fold myself in half?”

“Ugh.” Our collective face reddened.

Epsilon rubbed his temples in frustration.

“There’s a statistical pattern in our divergence,” Beta and I said as one. “It’s a Freudian paradigm.”

“You two are fucking annoying when you do that.” Alpha snapped at us before turning to the others, “And that.”

Gamma threw his empty beer to the floor and grabbed Zeta’s cheeks, pulling him in close. Zeta returned the embrace, unsure of where to place his hands. “Celibacy just got interesting,” he said and proceeded to make out while the rest of us watched in awkward fascination.

“Do I slobber when I kiss?”

“No. Why? Do I?”

“No. It seems a standard quantity of saliva. I just always worried about it.”

“That’s it.” Epsilon headed toward the green door that led into the house. “If no one’s committing suicide, I’m killing myself.”

“Wait.”Alpha grabbed his shoulder, “Are you going to kill yourself or kill by yourself? Personal pronouns are unclear in this situation.”

“Does it even matter?” Epsilon sighed and marched through the door into the kitchen.

Alpha trailed behind. “Well… yes.”

Epsilon strode through the living room and up the stairs as Alpha, Beta and I hurried after him, leaving Gamma and Zeta behind. There wasn’t much in our 1970’s style split-level that posed an immediate danger unless he decided to gorge on questionable leftovers or pull the flat screen TV down on top of himself.

We followed him up the orange-carpeted staircase and to the end of the narrow hall where he entered the bathroom. He locked the cheap brass knob from the inside. We could hear him rattling through the medicine cabinet and filling the tub. Alpha pushed us aside and tried the handle. He pounded on the flimsy wooden door. “Open up now! This isn’t funny!”

“No, it’s hilarious.”Epsilon sounded like his mouth was full of something crunchy.

“Why are you doing this?” Beta and I demanded in stereo.

“Listen to yourself.” Epsilon laughed through the door. “You’re ridiculous, petty, repressed, self-centered, narcissistic, flabby, base and weak. Have you ever noticed that you exhibit all the same traits you hate in other people? Why does the world need one of me, let alone six?”

“Enough of this.” Alpha kicked the door so hard the flimsy latch gave way, revealing Epsilon standing over the filling bathtub, the chrome of our microwave hair dryer gleaming in his hand. Chalky dust coated his lips and the corners of his mouth. Leftover medication covered the floor.

“I’m removing variables from the equation,” Epsilon said solemnly as he set one foot on the edge of the tub.

“That hair dryer is our only prototype,” Alpha pleaded. “And this is our only bathroom.”

“You’re terrible at this.” I cut in front of Alpha. The good thing about witnessing my own behavior is that it gave me plenty of opportunity to learn from my mistakes.

He hovered, arms crossed impatiently, outside the bathroom with Beta.

“Look,” I said, “There was a 16.6% probability I was going to react badly to the temporal split. Your behavior is obviously an expression of that outcome. But you have free will. You can choose a new outcome.”

Epsilon narrowed his eyes. “I like to think of myself as a predetermined consequence of my accident.” The tub started to overflow. “Just because you can’t predict my actions doesn’t mean I possess some mythical capacity for self-determination that goes beyond my feelings, thoughts and experiences. Besides–“

I was in the middle of formulating the perfect counter-argument when he decided to smack me in the face. A blur of silver flashed in front of my eyes followed by the exploding stars of pain.

With a shriek, Epsilon attacked me. It was that scene from a horror movie when the reflection leaps out of the mirror, its face twisted with rage. The deodorant and pill bottles around the bathroom sink clattered everywhere. I felt a burst of sharp pain as the back of my head shattered the mirror behind me.

“This hurts me more than it hurts you.” He laughed maniacally, one hand clenched around my throat while the other brought up the hair dryer.

“Careful, you’ll break it.” Alpha grabbed him, trying to wrest the prototype from Epsilon, but it hissed to life. Epsilon kicked me back up on the counter, using the force to smash Alpha into the towel rack. Beta stood outside, paralyzed with indecision.

Epsilon grabbed Alpha as he bounced off the wall and held him close as he threw himself into the overflowing tub. I watched helplessly as the roaring hair dryer tumbled toward the open water. Epsilon’s attack pushed my body on the counter, keeping my feet inches from the water that gushed onto the floor.

The two of them thrashed in the tub like fish, legs kicking over the edge. The lights dimmed and flickered. Gallons of water sloshed onto the already flooded yellow linoleum. Within seconds the unnoticeable hum of the house’s electrical appliances went silent. And then they slumped into an embrace—one body atop another, his head cradled on the other’s chest. Dead eyes shimmered behind the final bubbles rising to the surface.

Beta ran screaming down the hallway, leaving me alone for the first time in my two hours of existence.

If the bathroom stank of death, the plug-in air freshener did an incredible job wrapping it in a fresh linen aroma. I sighed at the mess around me. The tub continued to overflow; and discarded pills bobbed like tiny boats in a vast sea. I could see blood trickling down my neck in the shattered mirror.

Even though the breaker already flipped, I unplugged the hair dryer. The safety record on my products proved spotty at best.

Cold water soaked through my shoes as I set my feet on the ground. I took a deep breath and shut off the faucets. I reached into the tub, brushing against my lifeless doppelganger’s flesh. I pulled out the stopper and let the bodies settle as the last of the water swirled down the drain. A few streaks of blood made their lazy way there too.

As I relieved myself in the toilet, I considered the tableau. As macabre as it was, I found the experience of seeing my own cadavers exhilarating. Witnessing self-sabotaging behavior carried out to its most logical conclusion put the rest of my life in perspective. I had four remaining chances to be the man I wanted to be. But more importantly, I had a plan to fix everything.

I zipped up and went under the sink to grab the rubbing alcohol and bandages. I didn’t bother asking for help as I’m squeamish around blood. The last thing I needed was three of us fainting.

I wandered back down the stairs and could see them talking in the kitchen. “We should be okay burying the corpses in the back yard after dark. Most bodies get found because someone reports them as missing persons… We’re the opposite of that.” Zeta concluded.

Beta took a sip of beer. “That should be fine. I mean, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend a lot of money on a fancy funeral.” They muttered in agreement about the unnecessary expense and fuss of burial.

“Should we chop them up first?” Gamma said with more enthusiasm than seemed called for.

“I have a better idea.” I left a trail of wet foot prints in the shag carpet as I made my way into the kitchen. “We rebuild the matter replicator, but tweak it to disintegrate the bodies.”

“Yeah but, last time we tried to use it—“

“Last time we weren’t trying to destroy anything. With our track record, this can’t fail.”

Zeta walked out towards the garage. “I’ll get the power back on.”

Without me even needing to ask, Beta went to grab the blueprints. Gamma ordered four extra large pizzas with mushrooms and bacon. I started on a list of parts we’d need to reconstruct the main core of the device. Since this project could take several days, I also wrote down a reminder to get more plug-in air fresheners in case the bodies upstairs started to reek.

The four of us worked like a frictionless machine, our actions perfectly synchronized. And as midnight approached, I realized there was no other person I would rather be four of. We could be open and trusting with each other on a level that’s impossible for singular people to understand. Heck, everything humans need from society— acceptance, intimacy, approval— we could give unconditionally to each other.

Sartre may have been right when he said hell was other people, but I found paradise within myself.

 


Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies, the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out September. Sign up for the mailing list for more info.

 


Mike bode is the author of The Queen of Lies, the first installment in the ongoing series, Architects of the Grand Design. His next book comes out October. Sign up for the mailing list for more info. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest . (You can also follow him on Goodreads and even Amazon)

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