Mary isn’t right. She knows this. She knows the people she knows know this. It shows – shows on her face, in her voice, in how she moves. She’s out of sorts, off kilter. Waves of dread rise up in her stomach and threaten to overwhelm her. What’s worse is she doesn’t know why.
Sometimes, she feels like she’s coming apart – literally ripping open at the seams. Like she could just wink out of existence at any moment. At other times, she feels like a piece of bad programming – as though she was accidentally written into some computer algorithm and she’ll be erased. Fixed.
This is a new feeling. She’s been sad before, for extended stretches: she remembers this clearly. But now…now. This is different. It’s as if she’s slowly drifting away from reality. She wants someone to explain what’s happening to her. But who? She can’t describe it to anyone. Who would listen? Who would sit and let her tell them she’s afraid she’s disappearing? That, one by one, each part of her is flickering and guttering and going out?
They’d think she was crazy. Maybe she is. Maybe that’s the explanation. Maybe she should be medicated. Maybe that would solve the problem. She decides she’ll go to the doctor. The doctor will tell her how to fix it, how to make herself solid again.
On Monday, she makes the appointment, and on Tuesday, she goes to see the doctor. He’s a middle-aged man, with a paunch and a sympathetic furrow of the brow. He listens to her describing how her life is disintegrating – not just her life, her whole being – and nods as though he knows exactly what she’s talking about. She suspects he doesn’t – how could he, really. She tries to be more emphatic, to be clearer. She raises her left hand to gesticulate, and she realises one of her fingers has disappeared. It’s only for a second – it’s gone and then it’s back – but it’s indisputable. She stops mid-sentence. She doesn’t wait for the doctor to speak. Instead, she runs.
She runs and runs and runs, all the way across town until she reaches her apartment. Sweating and panting, she stares at herself in the bathroom mirror.
“What’s happening to me?” she whispers.
She’s shaking all over and there are tears streaming down her face. She can feel the desperation building inside her. There’s only one thing she can think of doing. Still trembling, she reaches for the razor on the side of the bathtub, and slowly, precisely presses it down against the soft flesh on her upper arm and draws it towards her.
At first, the blood rises to the surface and flows as she hoped it would, proving there is life there. But after a moment or two, it starts to flicker and fade, and any sign of injury disappears with it.
A few days pass. She’s afraid to go outside, afraid to speak, afraid to move. She calls her office to tell them she has the flu, and then she calls the doctor again.
It’s a quiet, grey afternoon. Everything seems to be as it should be when she works up the courage to leave the apartment.
The doctor looks at her gravely.
“You’re a simulacrum,” he says. As though she should know what this means.
“A simulacrum. A cipher. In short, you’re not real,” he says, and sighs heavily. She stares at him, blankly. There’s a long pause and she can see him trying to decide how to explain himself. He sighs again.
“You’re an amalgam of various different people. You were constructed out of pieces of memory.” He pauses again, waiting for her to process the information before he continues.
“Your parents couldn’t conceive, and they didn’t want to adopt. Effectively, you’re a very sophisticated computer programme. You were designed to develop and grow, just like any other child. Your facial features were constructed so as to resemble an approximate genetic mix of your mother and father.” He pauses yet again, watching her, waiting for her to react, but her face is frozen.
“Unfortunately, the technology was relatively untested at the time. You’ve already made it much further than we thought you would.”
“We?” she asks.
“FamiGen. Your creators. Look, there’s not much I can do for you. These are their contact details. Tell them I sent you.” He hands her a white card, with the word FamiGen printed in small black letters, and a phone number underneath.
“They might be able to help you.”