After dinner, they arrived back at his house. Since it was a special occasion, they’d gone to one of those fancy ‘real steak’ places. There was something special about the experience of eating real meat, even though chemically the factory-grown stuff was the same. He’d enjoyed it anyway. And they’d had a great time, laughing and joking and covertly making up stories about the other diners in hushed tones. Katy had looked fantastic in her retro backless red dress and heels, her hair up in the style of the 2000s. They entered the house, and Ben said “Romantic lighting.” As the lights came on, they revealed a huge bunch of flowers next to the first, spilling over with gorgeous lilies bursting with whites, yellows, and blues. Ben’s heart paused for a moment. It wasn’t the violation of finding things inside his home – he was used to that now – it was the mystery, and the renewed uncertainty of how to handle the situation. He decided to come clean this time. “Oh darling, they’re absolutely…” “I didn’t…”, he began to stammer, but Katy was already at the flowers, reading the label aloud. “I love you – eternally. From Ben. Oh sweetie, I love you too!” She hugged him warmly. To begin with, he received the hug but didn’t reciprocate. His eyes were open, staring at the flowers. Then he slowly let himself drift into her, but even as he closed his eyes and squeezed her, his unease remained. He made an excuse and said he’d join her upstairs soon. He retired to his office and slide into his ergo-chair, calm but focused. He had to get to the bottom of this.
He put on the immersion headset, which welcomed him. “Hi Ben, how can I help you today? How about an episode of Being The Bachelor – or maybe Being The Bachelorette if you want to challenge yourself a little more?” He selected ‘Polly’ and said “Polly, did you order flowers?” The eager voice came back “No, should I have? I can make a note to order flowers for you if you wish.” “No” he replied firmly. Next he checked his messages. As soon as he selected the first one, he knew what had happened. It was from a ‘Benny’. How could he have been so stupid? Benny must be the name for his Real Me, the one with no physical body. He opened it. “Hey Ben, it’s Benny! Good to meet you! I thought it would be good to get off on the right foot, so I ordered some flowers for Katy. Hope you don’t mind. Anyway, call me when you get this!”
He sat for a moment, taking it in. That feeling again, a nervousness. Like anxiety, but more muted, as though dampened by insulation. More muted and yet also more tinged with panic. What was this going to be like? Dive in, he thought to himself. Let’s find out. He called Benny.
“Yup, look, er, thanks for ordering those flowers but you really don’t need to do that sort of thing, ok? I can look after myself.”
“I am yourself, you idiot.”
“I know that but…”
Ben trailed off. He felt he was getting the first taste of just how complicated this was going to get, like an explorer beginning a crossing of the Sahara Desert, reaching the top of the very first sand dune and looking out across dunes as far as the eye can see, thinking “Pretty dry spot, this.”
Benny continued: “Look, the way I figure, I’m you, you’re me, we’re a team. I know when we created me, that wasn’t why, it was about immortality. But here we are, let’s explore how to make this as productive as possible. Didn’t Katy like the flowers?”
“She did, but why did you have to go and put the L word on there? Of all people you should know I’m not ready for that kind of commitment.”
“Well, I spent some time thinking about that over the last few days, and I decided I am ready to say that to her. Here’s the trick - it doesn’t imply any particular commitment at all, but it will make her feel more secure. I had some spare time and was downloading some knowledge about that.”
Ben felt the panic rising. “But she’s my girlfriend, you can’t just go ahead and make that decision…”
“Once again, I am you. You are me. She’s my girlfriend too. Not exactly ‘ours’ because that would imply we are two different beings. We’re the same. Literally. Don’t be slow about this, I know I’ve had a few more days to think about it but still - catch up.”
“But if she’d known it wasn’t from me - I mean if she’d known it was from the other version of me, she’d have got mad...or at least it would have meant less to her, or something.”
“She’d better get used to that kind of thing, I’m not going to cut ties with my girlfriend just because I don’t have a physical body any more.”
“My girlfriend? Any more? When did you have a physical body?”
“When. I. Was. You.”
Ben could feel Benny’s eyes rolling through his slow, sarcastic tone. God, he really disliked Benny - what a know-it-all, so impatient, so mean, so…. shit, Benny was him just a few days ago. Was he really so unpleasant to deal with? His head hurt.
Ben lifted off the headset and set it to one side. He tried to stay calm. What to do? He felt so confused, he didn’t even know what paths might be open to him, as though he’d just been dropped, blindfolded, in the middle of an unknown forest. His instinct was to somehow switch Benny off, but he didn’t feel like running away. Did he love Katy? Now he didn’t even know. And what would it mean if he had an alter-ego that was in love wtih Katy while he wasn’t? Ben decided to brush these thoughts aside and deal with them another day. He resolved to be nicer than Benny in the mean time.
Padding along the corridor upstairs, he headed for the bedroom. With each step, he felt a little further from Benny, a little lighter on his feet. He heard the gentle hum of the brainwave machine, and saw Katy sitting on the bed meditating. The emissions from the machine to put Katy into a meditative trance did not cause a humming sound, but the makers of the machine had discovered that the humming noise alone could induce the desired trance since users tended to believe it indicated the machine was doing something. He slipped onto the bed and closed his eyes. Within moments his thoughts gave way to the pleasant feeling of drifting. Subtle geometric patterns appeared in his blackened vision. He knew from experience that trying to look directly at these would make them disappear, so without thinking he simply floated, gently aware of Katy’s presence next to him.
When they emerged from the trance, they sat on the bed together for a moment. She smiled and him, and said “What would you like to do this evening?” He needed to forget what happened earlier. “Let’s go for a number 3 combo,” he said. Surprise flickered across her face for the briefest of instants, then her smiled broadened. She tapped a button on the dispenser by the bed and pulled out two skin patches, each with a large 3 on them. She handed him the blue one. They stared into each others’ eyes for a moment. In the dim light of the bedroom, he couldn’t see that they were different colors but it didn’t matter. He instructed the room to prepare: “Bedroom, we’re doing number 3, please begin the sequence.” “Please confirm number 3, yes or no,” a voice answered. “Yes, confirmed.” Ben said. The lights shifted in color slightly, and music began to play, quietly at first like the sound of distant drumming. Holding each other’s gaze, they pressed the patches onto their skin. Ben felt the embrace of the drugs as they spread throughout his body and carried all his worries away with them. He melted into Katy, not knowing where he ended and she began. Love surged through him. He didn’t care one bit that it was at least partly chemically induced. It felt free, cosmic, perfect.