Harry looked pretty normal for an invisible loser - short dark hair, khakis, a plaid shirt. If you saw him in the street you wouldn’t guess it but looking normal was the good work of his wife, Sally.
Not that you’d see him in the street because the streets were empty, and to Harry they felt like they had always been empty. Like he was born into this goddam lockdown and was going to die in it.
“They want the grant meetings face-to- face in DC. During a pandemic,” Sally said to him as he watched her pack a bag. “This administration is neck deep in idiots. I’ll be gone a couple of days.”
Harry himself, if challenged, would admit to having some loser tendencies, but he wasn’t one of those born losers. He was pretty sure he had loser thrust upon him. He just can’t say specifically when it happened. It was all very vague. There was a chance his career change from scientist to writer, coinciding with the lockdown, might be the cause, or the effect, or just one of those random correlations that happens, like bat consumption and stock markets.
“I know I don’t have to say it,” she said at the front door on her way out, before kissing him good-bye, “but stay out of the basement.”
Harry had the attic. It was a nice attic. There were nice rugs on the polished floorboards. It had dormer windows you could see the blue and rolling hills from. There was an antique desk with an inlaid leather writing surface. His MacBook Pro sat in the middle of it, always open to his unfinished novel.
The basement was Sally’s, but the code for the lock on the door was written on the back of the kitten calendar stuck to the fridge. After he lost interest in walking around in her heels and cocktail dresses, he accepted the inevitable and trespassed on her lab.
He didn’t think the duplicator was such a big deal. But she wasn’t impressed by his writing, either, though she tolerated it. The thing was just a quantum resonant imager, like you’d find in any hospital, hooked up to a bioprinter. Did she ever print them tiger steaks with it? No. Did she ever print them anything fun to eat? Never.
“It’s not a toy,” she’d say, putting on her white lab coat before disappearing into her white-tiled basement lab. She had that whole space and used a fraction of it, the equivalent of two single beds and a desk - the scanner, the bioprinter and its tank of goop, and her little shiny golden cylinder of a supercomputer next to its screen on a white formica bench.
He lay down on the bed of the scanner. Sally’s real contribution had been in the software side. The scan ring swept over him. Instead of sending the scan data directly to the bioprinter it was stored and there was an interface that allowed you to make changes. Those changes were modelled and simulated to check you weren’t going to get a nasty surprise when you hit print. That was the tough part that Sally solved.
Harry navigated through the menu system. This was his chance to conduct a little bit of nature versus nurture. Was he a loser due to circumstance or due to biology? He adjusted sliders for serotonin expression, dopamine reabsorption, and performed other neurochemical tweaks. His novel’s latest stall had been due to the planning and research he had pursued for this very moment.
He hit print and went upstairs to make coffee.
When he came back down with two cups of coffee the copy of himself was waiting for him to unlatch the lid of the bioprinter. He let him out and gave him a coffee.
“Want some pants?”
“How do you feel?”
“Good. Better than you, I think.”
“That’s the serotonin.”
“I feel really good. Empowered. Powerful.”
Harry2 grinned at Harry. “You poor sucker. Missing out on this.”
“On what?” said Harry.
“This!” Harry2 said, pointing at his head. “I’ve got me some ideas.”
He walked over to the duplicator and started adjusting things.
“First, more serotonin. Also, we’ll increase dendrite branching, bump up cortical thickness and folding, mitochondrial efficiency, and, because we’ve always wanted to be buff, myostatin production.”
“Do we really want another one of us? Two is already going to take some explaining,” said Harry.
“Yes, we do,” said Harry2, pushing print. “Let’s go make more coffee.”
Harry3 was even more enthusiastic than Harry2.
“I thought he was going to be muscly,” said Harry.
“Give him a couple of days to exercise,” said Harry2.
“This is really good,” said Harry3, flexing his arms, performing squat jumps. “I feel really good. I think nature is to blame.”
“Yeah. Not nurture,” said Harry2. “Who even remembers that shit? Like, how can it affect you?”
Harry was jealous his copies were in such a good mood.
“Maybe we’re repressing some bad history. And you two now have the brain chemistry to compensate for whatever it was.”
The copies laughed together. It was weird hearing himself laugh at himself.
“Ah, you’re nurture boy now. We’re living proof it’s nature. You could have been different. You could have been better. Or at least happier. Aw, look at that sad face,” said Harry2.
“So sad,” said Harry3.
“We need to cheer him up,” said Harry2. “And we know the only thing that’s going to work.”
“Getting him laid,” said Harry3. “And I know who’ll do it.”
“Not me,” said Harry2.
“Himself. Ourself,” said Harry3, going over to the duplicator. “We have enough raw materials for one more run. And, neither of you may have noticed, but this thing does chromosome editing.”
He fiddled with the screen.
“So we delete the Y, double the X. Copy and paste is so incestuous. Tamp down all those pesky duplications so we’re not printing an actual inbred, and viola! More coffee?”
The bioprinter had been printing from the feet up. When it was finished the lips and working its way towards the nose, Harry found himself touching his own mouth.
The print run finished and Harry3 unlatched the lid and pushed it open. He started laughing.
“This is fantastic!”
“I don’t believe it,” said Harry2, and started laughing at himself.
“I don’t get it,” said Harry.
The copy stepping out of the printer was obviously a woman, and even though she had short hair like Harry and his copies, she looked exactly like Sally.
“What’s so funny?” said Sally.
“You’re Sally,” said Harry2.
“I’m Sally?” said Sally. Harry2 led her to the polished side of the bioprinter.
“I am Sally!” said Sally.
“We’re all Sally,” said Harry3. “And some sucker’s Y chromosome.”
“I don’t like this at all,” said Harry. “Oh my god! Stop that! Stop it!”
Harry2 and Sally were up against the bioprinter.
“Isn’t that exactly what you’ve been doing with your Sally?” said Harry3.
“In fact, that’s what I’d like to be doing,” said Harry3. “Yo, Harry. Let’s print another Sally.”
“Cool,” said Sally.
“Tank’s just about empty,” said Harry2.
“Not a problem. You go upstairs,” said Harry3, putting his arm around Harry’s shoulder. “and get the blender and a couple of sharp knives.” Harry tried to twist away, but Harry3’s arm tightened like iron around him.
“We’ve got all the raw materials we need right here, going to waste in this sad loser.”