The Republic of David by Anton Rose [sci-fi]

The Republic of David by Anton Rose

It was David’s time. A new beginning, on a new world. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he ran his fingers up his forearm, feeling the tiny hairs, erect.

The technician entered the room, holding a clipboard. “Good to see you, David,” he said. “You look nervous.”

David nodded.

“First time?”

“Yes. I’ve been putting it off for a while.”

“There really is nothing to worry about.” He handed David the board, which held a contract and a pen.

David scanned the document, only a handful of phrases standing out to him. On the third page, he stopped. “What’s this about hallucinations?” he asked.

The technician laughed. “Don’t worry about that. The technology is perfectly safe these days. That’s just for the insurers.”

“Will I remember anything about the journey?”

“That’s the thing. There is no journey, not really. The machine scans everything and sends the data to your destination. The machine at the receiving end reconstructs you according to the blueprint, molecule for molecule.”

David took a deep breath. He signed the paper and exhaled.

“Have you got anyone there waiting for you?” the technician asked.

“My wife and my children went ahead while I finalized some things at this end.”

“Well, you’ll be seeing them soon.”

***

When David opened his eyes, he was lying on a metal slab, naked. He stretched his limbs, feeling the blood push up into his extremities. Some clothes were waiting for him, folded neatly in a pile. Dressed, he made his way to the door, taking each step deliberately, swaying slightly. He opened the door and saw a mirror with his reflection in it. But as David stood still, the reflection moved. David took a step back. He felt his legs buckle from beneath him, and he collapsed.

***

When David regained consciousness, he found himself sitting in a soft, padded chair. In front of him was another chair, and in it sat a doppelgänger of himself. David lurched forwards, retching.

The other man passed him a glass of water.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It happens a lot.”

David took a sip of the water and looked at the man. “Who are you?”

“I’m David.”

“But I’m David.”

“Can’t we both be?” The man smiled. There was a knock at the door, and another man entered. He was dressed differently but he, too, was the spitting image of David. He looked at his watch. “Sorry, I’m running a little late.”

David stood, and took a few unsteady paces backwards. “What the hell is happening?” he said, saliva sliding off his lips.

The third man approached. “I’m David,” he said. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“This isn’t real,” said David. “I’m David. Me.”

“We don’t disagree with you.”

David drank the rest of the water. His forehead prickled with sweat.

“Why don’t you come and have a seat again?” said the first man. “We can explain everything.”

David returned to the chair and passed the glass to the first man. As he took it, David grabbed the man’s wrist, squeezing the flesh.

“Don’t worry,” said the man. “I’m completely real. One hundred percent David.”

David sat.

“Do you remember where you were, before this?” one of the men asked.

“I was being transported to one of the new colonies.”

“Good. Go on.”

“I had a new job out there. My family went ahead while I sorted some things out.”

“Perfect.”

“But that doesn’t explain anything,” David said, looking at the two mirror images sitting in front of him. “It doesn’t explain you.”

“No, you’re right. The machine that brought you here developed a fault. It got stuck in a loop. Six hours after the first David arrived, it created another one. Six hours after that, it did it again. And it never stopped.”

“Why don’t you turn the machine off?”

“Good question. One, we’re not sure that we can. Two, even if we could, we decided against it. We run a democracy of sorts here. One David, one vote.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“It is a lot to take in.”

David stood. He looked at the door. “Can I see them now?”

The other Davids looked at each other. “In a way,” they said.

They led David out of the building, stepping out into the fresh air.

“I can breathe,” David said.

“Yes,” said one of the other men. “We’ve made good progress. The atmosphere is almost Earth-like.”

They climbed into the back of a car, which immediately began to move. In the mirror, David saw the face of the driver. It was a reflection of his own face, except that the hair was whiter, the skin more rough.

The sky above glowed with a strange yellow hue, but the streets were filled with familiar sights. All of David’s favorite things were there: clusters of pubs with huge screens playing live sports, shops selling clothes and equipment for outdoor activities, and long rows of Mexican restaurants. For the first time since his arrival, David felt hungry.

After a short journey, they exited onto a busy street dotted with tall buildings. There were Davids everywhere, milling around, passing by.

“Where is everyone else?” David asked.

“You mean the other colonists? Some of them stuck around, but most of them left. You can see why, I suppose. This is a world for Davids now.”

They entered the tallest building David could see and took the lift to the top floor. The roof of the building had been made into a garden with small trees, bushes, and a cornucopia of luscious flowers—reds, yellows, oranges, and pinks. As they walked down a narrow gravel path, David spotted some small bunches of gypsophila. “They’re my wife’s favorites,” he said.

“We know,” the other men said.

At the other side of the roof was a small wall, over which David could see a wide expanse of earth, where the edge of the city melted into dark red hills and a river snaked into the distance.

Underneath the wall, set into a wide patch of grass, were three gravestones.

“I’m sorry,” said one of the men.

“Sorry for what?”

The man gestured towards the gravestones.

As David read the names, he dropped to his knees.

“How?” he said, his voice trembling.

“We’re not sure, but we know they all lived long lives.”

David turned around. There were tears on his cheeks.

“What do you mean? That’s impossible.”

“Come on, David,” said the first man, his tone sharpening. “There have been many Davids before you, and there will be many Davids after you.”

David rose to his feet. As if he was drunk, he staggered over to the wall. “This is bullshit,” he said. “I’m still in the machine. I’m going to wake up, and I’ll be there, and I’ll see them.”

“Listen, David,” said the other man. “We know it’s difficult to accept.”

David clambered onto the wall. Looking down he could see hundreds of little Davids, scurrying along the streets. He felt the breeze, pushing against his chest.

“You don’t want to do this,” the first man said.

David stepped backwards and fell.

“David!” the first man shouted. “David!” He lifted his hands to his face and rubbed his eyes. “Damn it,” he hissed.

The other man took a phone out of his pocket. He dialed a number and held the phone to his head.

“David, hi,” he said. “I’m afraid we’ve had another jumper.”

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