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Duplicate

Alexei Dubov has a kind of magic. Maybe a mutation. Newspapers aren’t sure. Scholars debate. His lawyers argue he cannot help it—and anyway, who can say the things he doubles are less real than their originals?
“After all, how can you forge a person?” they ask, and point to me, miserable and silent in the witness stands.

* * *

I am very careful. But my face—her face—appears on television too often to go entirely unnoticed. And though the neighborhood Witness Protection chose for me is cramped and crumbling, still, sometimes reporters find my unlisted number and leave voicemails.

They want to know what it felt like, suddenly existing. They want to know if I remember everything she remembers. They want to know if I am a paid actress. Some say they’ve found my plastic surgeons, and how much did Alexei Dubov pay me in his famous, slightly-too-small bills?

Though I do not have a lawyer, I know good advice. I listen to what Alexei’s lawyers tell him and say nothing.

* * *

On the stand, I plead the fifth. A day passes while they argue whether I am able to.
I am a copy, they say. I am not the real woman. She is nearing thirty; I am barely three years old. How can I incriminate myself? What do I even know that could?
Perhaps, if they paid closer attention, my un-answer would be answer enough.

* * *

Though my driver’s license said Mary Alva, the police knew otherwise by the social security card hidden behind it. It had the right numbers, the right name—but the wrong shade of blue, and the paper too perfect.

“Son of a bitch,” my arresting officer said, fanning my wrong-color credit cards. “He copied the woman.”

This officer disappears for some time. Another brings me coffee and a sandwich from the deli across the street. Kind of him; the bread is not yet soggy. This one—Jacobs—tells me that my appearance means a hundred phone calls and requires paperwork that does not yet exist.

“I mean, normally, we just toss whatever Dubov makes into Evidence,” he says and then pales. He amends, “You’re different. Obviously.”

I shrug, sinking teeth into crisp toast and melted Swiss. A moment later, I pause, peeling apart the bread to peer inside. “What is this called?”

Slowly, the officer sits, fidgeting his own coffee. “Monte Cristo. I figured you can’t go wrong with ham and cheese.”

Inspecting a tomato, I ask him, “Which one is this?”

He tells me. Like a toddler, I beam up at him. I am simple; he is charmed.

“Couldn’t tell ham from a tomato,” I hear him say later, outside of the interrogation room.
Easy as this, the police stop asking difficult questions.

* * *

The internet petitions for me, that I should not have to speak. I am a child, snapped into startled being in the copied body of a woman I have never known. I only look like Mary Alva—as I was made to.

“And really,” they write, “she’s typical Dubov.”

By this, they mean they’ve found flaws.

I smile for the cameras when people ask me to. Bewildered and wide-eyed, I bare too-straight teeth. My eyes catch the light, slightly uneven, a wrong shade of green.

The internet says I am fifteen pounds heavier than Mary Alva ever was.

The internet says the camera adds ten pounds.

I buy brownies with Kickstarter funds—A Roof for Mary Alva II; successfully funded—and say nothing.

* * *

Alexei Dubov does not contact me.

But when I am scared and small on the stand, prosecution threatening contempt of court—when I whisper to the judge, “I don’t know what that means,”—I see Alexei’s eyes narrow.

His lawyers object. My fear proves their point. I know nothing.

“My client duplicated a particular woman’s appearance. How could he ever duplicate her mind, her soul?”

The judge agrees. Mr. Dubov is not God, therefore I am unique. I can have no knowledge of the events leading up to Mr. Dubov’s arrest, nor the whereabouts of his suspected accomplice, the original Ms. Alva. I am dismissed.

As I leave the court, the bailiff and my social worker matching golems at my side, I catch Alexei’s eyes. His gloved hands clench and still.
I want to smile but do not.

Instead, I curl my fingers in private sign, gently pulling the suggestion of a trigger.
Alexei Dubov does not contact me.

* * *

Three weeks later, the trial continues unabated. The news reports several suitcases of counterfeit bills brought in as evidence—right rag-paper, right green ink, but slightly too small. Typical Dubov, the internet says. No eye for the details of American currency. Too used to rubles.

Of course, I know only what I see in the news, now. I am utterly uninvolved. An innocent bystander. Interest in my provenance fades. My voicemails dwindle to supermarket tabloids and the occasional, well-funded conspiracy theorist. With my aptitude obvious for bills and groceries and important dates, even my social worker drifts to more interesting assignments.

No one notices the plane ticket I purchase to Saint Petersburg.

* * *

The original Ms. Alva is not difficult to locate. She meets me at the airport, carrying a sign that reads: Welcome Home, Little Sister! Her smile is my own—the wolfish smile I could not loose in the courtroom—proud and victorious.\

“I wondered if you’d come,” she says when she hugs me, the red felt of her coat coarse against my cheek. “I’d hoped.”

I laugh. “You knew.”

And, of course, it is true.

We leave the airport as twins, arm in arm and smiling, both of us knowing what Alexei Dubov learned too late.

Sometimes you play God.

And then, sometimes, flush with your own offshore accounts and fake rubles, the gods you played, play too.

 

Crystal Lynn Hilbert

Hilbert
Crystal Lynn Hilbert lives in the forgotten backwaters of Western Pennsylvania and subsists mostly on old trade paperbacks and tea. A fan of things magical and mythical, her stories tend towards a peculiar blend of high magic and Eddic poetry. You can read her latest monstrosities at Apex (“Soul of Soup Bones”, June 2014) and at Betwixt (“The Many-Named”, October, 2014). She also keeps something like a blog over at http://cl-hilbert.tumblr.com/.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] *”Duplicate” – Crystal Lynn Hilbert, in Flash Fiction Online, Feb 2015. “On the stand, I plead the fifth. A day passes while they argue whether I am able to.I am a copy, they say. I am not the real woman. She is nearing thirty; I am barely three years old.”  Especially good.  More pure story in [cough] words than I can usually pack into ten thousand. […]

  2. […] and “Duplicate” on Flash Fiction Online (http://flashfictiononline.com/main/article/duplicate/). A monster masquerading as her sleeps at […]