This story was first serialized in 31 daily parts during March 2022 via the @InternetofWords Twitter feed @ 9am. It is now reproduced in this complete form, with a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
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“Why do you keep coming back here?”
Stan takes a long, considered sip of his Coconut Latte. Outside the café window it is a quite extraordinary Tuesday morning: chilled, relaxed, calm all the way up to Russian Hill. His ability surmises on the mood beyond… bet they’ll be cool. This is a fine city to be an Empath in. That’s not the answer that Catalina will get, though, even if it’s more honest than the one they’ll choose. The Mirror factors in both histories, why they were drawn in when they were: it understands the subtleties at play. Time demands it.
Cat has not been here as long as them. The Rules are never explained initially, it’s up to each individual to work it out: exposition, however, can be tough. They waited for her, over a year, knew it would happen before the Mirror predicted it: when she asks, they make her work. From the outside their physical remains poles apart: disparate height, weight, dressed on opposite ends of a 20th Century Vintage spectrum. Inside, both are built from identical DNA. That alone takes a fair deal of self-reflection to finally accept…
“Read a mind and find out.”
“Don’t start this again, if I could, I would, but I don’t have the mutation: stop being so fucking obstreperous.”
“What in fresh damnation does that mean?”
“You don’t have dictionaries in your version of this reality?”
“You have forgotten that I’m an idiot. Please indulge me.”
“You are difficult to control, which does not particularly appear as empathic. It’s like calling me a genius when you know I’m fitted with a data access uplink. I can recall everything any Earth has produced because it’s part of my job. Your job is not empathy, but annoyance.”
Stan loves poking Cat’s brain, supremely competent in the last months at pushing their point just far enough, but never exceeding an innate sense of indignation. She finds them fascinating because of the organics, and the fact that their attraction is not what was ever expected. They’ve had conversations about coitus: as they’re identical, will this mean if they have sex, it could end up just as masturbation when all was said and done? Stan’s really not interested now, but that has the potential to change once the Task’s completed. It’ll depend on her…
She’s still not got an answer to that first question. Time to fix that, then get ready to go work.
“I find the people fascinating. This version of Earth’s so much messier than mine and yet, on days like today, its ridiculousness is utterly compelling. I wish this was my home.”
When Cat smiles, increasing sections of Stan’s brain align in perfect symmetry. He’s seeing himself, in the end, on a version of the planet where computing took off a full century before this one. Data is part of her, top to toe, but still she can warp his calm without thinking.
“I like being a big girl here. I have value in the Task. Mostly though, I come back for you. We aren’t the same, I don’t care what the Handlers say. Mirrors remain a convenient way of matching realities and not worrying too much about the consequences.”
“So you do like me, then.”
“When you’re not a dick because you read minds. When you act and show you think past the superpower, I like that a lot. I might almost consider you attractive.”
“I thought we’d had that conversation and I said no…?”
“You will ask again when the Task is done, and we will see.”
“You’re not interested any more?”
“Newsflash: I am not driven by a basic biological need to reproduce. You are. I exist and thrive within the pleasure of procreation and, if I am honest, think you’d be a very addictive mindfuck. There is, of course, only one way to find out…”
“So, you don’t like me…”
“Not when you’re a dick and know full well how I feel, but want to feel aggrieved to assuage your own issues. Maybe today is the day you finally stop doing that, and we have more than just dinner after the Task…”
Stan’s grinning now, full and wide.
He knows Cat chose to be neutered as it interfered with the operation of her DAU. They’re both serial overachievers, when all is said and done. They want to remind what is missed in the purely mechanical action of intercourse. She’s genuinely interested in their empathic bond.
There are now many things to look forward to once the Task is complete.
“We may look like two different people but, in reality, it’s a front. He and me are the exact same person. We’re both here to correct a mistake in time…”
Cat’s decided that here, honesty matters most. It’s also a surprise that the use of a wrong pronoun has annoyed Stan. She can sense irritation and is briefly and genuinely chastised. They stand at the end of the alley, guarding both woman and animal as they communicate. The feline finally responds.
“I know what you are…”
The female Abyssinian is suitably nonplussed at Cat’s explanation: if they can communicate when no other human is capable of doing so, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that the circumstance is nowhere near what might be considered as normal to begin with. What does it know?
“… as I am also capable of reading minds, I will politely ask the biped at the end of the alley to remove itself, then I will answer. Thank you. The Ape you’re looking for moved out a week ago. He was heading south to LA. They were a generous fish disher… left out water too…”
This makes no sense. The Task is centred on a specific two block radii, surrounding San Francisco’s Potrero Hill. They’ve interviewed a number of felines already, as they hold the most reliable ground level intel of any domestic pets… and their target left very much in a hurry. Stan’s mounting irritation should be assuaged by the view: up here, a picture-perfect evolving city, truly compelling as backdrop… this guy knew he was a target. Their Handbook said this day would come. It is inevitable with the complexities of time travel and multiple outcomes.
He knew he was a target and ran… not to LA. Staring at what was the guy’s second floor apartment, without blinds and clearly empty, something does not feel right. The cat’s been fed a line, along with that tuna and salmon… fresh fish from the Docks… a daily trip down the hill…
“We both know he set up the felines, they’ve been placed as alibis, right?”
“None of them really care past the feeding. The collective unconsciousness knows something, but isn’t prepared to take a side, at least not yet. I sense a lot of nervousness, though. This is a big deal.”
If Cat gets something’s going down without a sixth sense, they both need to think carefully. Stan is beginning to wonder if that initial sensation of constant chill back at the Hub was also a front: perhaps this is bigger than just a rogue biotechnologist and their unpaid debt. His partner is standing, staring down towards the intersection of 18th and Texas, and it takes a second to work out what she’s been distracted by. There’s a mural on the store, joining front and side of the shop… which then shifts. For one second, a flicker of definite animation.
From flat wall leaps another Abyssinian, male this time, undoubtedly with something in its mouth: not food, but a rectangle wrapped in brown paper, before it’s sprinting away up the hill. The image briefly shifts again, mirroring surroundings, before the original mural returns. Stan and Cat stare, joint disbelief. The amount of energy required to create that Mirror, an overlap of parallel universes, would power the city for 24 hours. The tech should not exist to do it here: it would also be hugely irresponsible to use, as local geology’s too unstable…
“When does the Earthquake happen here, exactly?”
“Seventy two hours from now. This isn’t the epicentre -”
“No, I’d bet that’s where whoever’s powering that Mirror is located.”
“This is not our remit, you heard the Boss -“
“I’m kind of thinking it is now…”
Their target is not here, and has not been for some time. He was supposed to perish when the Earthquake hit, but before then Stan had a piece of information that needed to be extracted from his head… a location. Perhaps Cat is right after all. Maybe this has become a wider remit. The Boss had kept stuff from him, for the first time since they’d been paired as a team. They had not been happy about it either, as if someone else had decided this needed to be perfunctory, the least amount of work done. If there is a portable Mirror Generator here and now…
… someone else has decided this particular reality is ripe for manipulation. Maybe not humans either, if the feline and its parcel is an indicator of intent. The significance of this thought almost simultaneously registers with Cat too, quickly considering the options available.
“What if someone’s breaking the Prime Function?”
“It wouldn’t matter. In three days, this timeline ends.”
“That would be a great time to sneak someone in or out, wouldn’t it?”
This was a city about to alter forever. Stan’s suddenly not sure if it should…