Against All Odds, by Nick Johns
I always suspected that the other people in the world weren′t entirely human. There was just something off about them. I noticed it early but couldn′t put my finger on it. As a child I considered that it was me that was not human. I abandoned that explanation as illogical. I knew it wasn′t me. It was them.
My whole life has been a struggle between me and them. As I developed a new tactic to find the truth, they adapted their methods to frustrate me. After all they′ve done to me it′s difficult to think. Where to start?
Years ago I noticed that there were a finite number of them. I saw that they used the same model more than once, usually in minor roles. I call them repros, or reproductions. I must assume that they are manufactured and stored somewhere when they′re not around me.
I would see one in the park who had been on TV the week before. Obviously they tried to make changes, make them more difficult to spot, but once I was old enough to have seen a lot of them, there was no doubt. I was able to watch for the signs. They tried not to use the same one to play important parts in my life, I mean, my repro uncle never became the local taxi driver, but even when they were careful I would catch a glimpse of one I recognised turning away from me at the bus station, trying to stay out of sight. There were lots of them, but not seven billion different individuals like they told me. Even young, I was more observant than they thought.
It gave me some problems. I was forced to avoid groups as I became consumed with identifying previous versions of repros they had used before. That made it difficult for me to concentrate on the biggest puzzle – what did they want from me?
My avoidance of crowds could have been my subconscious suggesting a way of finding out what I needed to know. My subconscious was very helpful like that. I paid attention and remembered things that would prove important. No answers but some really useful questions. Not great scientific or philosophical questions; I found these made no sense to me anyway. Complicated fictions to tie up my mind, fill it with white noise.
I knew that I was unique, that things existed because I was there. But the repros controlled my environment. The facts they fed me about the world were false. I could only rely on what I could prove myself and what I could work out from that. I became more systematic looking for evidence. Things were not as they seemed.
I didn′t laugh. It′s one of the differences between me and them. They laughed all the time. Laughed at what I did, what I said; and told jokes. They pretended they were trivial, just fun. I knew different. Science was nonsense; jokes were important. They were questions for me to consider, not just things to bray at like they did.
′Knock Knock′ – ′Who′s there?″
That question formed the start of much of my early research. In the real world – my real world, I could never know the answer until I looked. Behind every knock on every door lay a huge number of possibilities that were not resolved until I answered. It was more complex than the simple alive or dead of Schrödinger′s Cat. Who′s there? And why?
I tried opening the door before the knock came, challenging the first repro I recognised. I would call it by the first name I knew it by.
″Hello Mr Davies!″
″Hello″ it′d say with a smile, but then it would furrow its brow, remembering who it was supposed to be and say something like –
″What did you call me? You must be mistaken young man. My name is Iain. Iain Wilson.″
Of course, soon they changed the programming, or whatever repros have, so it didn′t work every time. But by then it was too late. I knew that I was right. It was the same repro used again. Why were they watching me?
Despite all my theories and questions I had one really serious problem. I didn′t know how or even if they die. I had attacked some when I was younger, but they were stronger than me or worked together in groups. I trapped animals and so on, to experiment on, but that proved nothing – they were not repros. When I tried with the baby sister repro, they found me and that was when they sent me to the hostel. They watched me even more closely after that. As I grew they produced ever larger repros to follow me, innocently loitering nearby, providing security for the smaller ones.
Due to their constant surveillance of me, I had to direct my attention to other aspects of the problem. I began to wonder about the physical environment around me. At first I had thought that the major physical laws were OK. I mean, gravity worked the way it was supposed to; but later I adopted a more scientific approach. Gravity worked in my immediate vicinity and when I was awake. I could not judge what happened when I was not there or was asleep. They must be doing this for a reason. I needed to find a way to discover what it was.
′What does an occasional table do the rest of the time?′
This gave me a good deal to think about. I began looking behind things and underneath them, trying to see behind the facade they were presenting for me. I knew I must be on to something when they began to stop me doing this. If I ever managed to slip away and get somewhere interesting, like under a bridge, and waited to see what would happen to it, they would send repros to find me and bring me back to the hostel where they had better control over the scenery. I was making progress.
′If a tree falls in a forest and there is no-one there to hear it, does it make a sound?′ It was while I was researching the answer to this question, having escaped and gone into the national park to chop down some trees at various times of day and in different ways, that they finally decided to stop the pretence. They sent some police repros for me. I recognised all three of them straight away; they were easy, three of their biggest repros, Pete′s Dad, Ivan the blacksmith from that country show and Mr Nichols the butcher in the village where I grew up. They were better trained now, of course, they did not react when I called them by their names but I could see in their eyes that they realised that they were not deceiving me anymore. Was I close to a breakthrough?
They must have been getting worried then as they changed tactics and locked me up in the clinic.
In here they observe me even more closely than the hostel. They control my movements better. They try to lull me by using repros they think I haven′t noticed before.
I have given great thought to what to do next. I pretend to go along with whatever they want, even when they try to confuse my thinking with drugs or shock treatment, but this is my biggest chance. Believing me cornered, and confined behind locked doors, they will not build scenery outside my immediate location. I just need to get out of here unobserved to prove that I am right once and for all.
They think they′re so clever, watch me so closely, know all about me. They don′t. When I was in the forest, unobserved, I trapped a young repro. I now know they die easily.
Tonight is the dark of the moon, the worst time for them to observe me. I know where the keys are kept, know when there is only one staff member on duty. Tonight it′s Iain. You know, used to be the milkman. A repro is always slow, because it′s reacting, not planning like a real person. I′ll catch it unawares, like I used to with the name calling experiment. I have a broken metal bed tie, sharpened quietly and patiently against the wall.
I can hear its footsteps near my door now. Quiet! I must attract its attention.
″Knock Knock – Who′s There?″
Nick Johns doesn’t go anywhere much. He can’t get Google map directions from his start point; since for the past two years he has lived in retirement.
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Tags: murder, NIck Johns, suspense