As always the ride to work on the bullet train gave Reuben Sprinkler the chance for a bit of introspection. He knew that today all he had worked for could come to fruition; his bold experiment could reach a phase of practical implementation. When did his work spill over into the personal? When did he first decide to clone himself?
Thinking of himself as what used to be called a “new man” back at the end of the twentieth century, but was now the norm for all family men, he felt he had always played his part in the care of their two children, both now at school. Even before they came on the scene he had done his share of household chores and cooking. He had always enjoyed working alongside
Georgia, his wife, as they wove their cosy, domestic nest, so when she started to complain that he cared more about his work and his friends than about his family that had really stung. When he first joined BioEarth International back in 2078, fresh from university, he wasn’t really sure where his career was going, how long he would stay, would he ever be able to carve a niche for himself there. Now, fifteen years later, he was deputy leader of the AltMan cloning programme. His work had absorbed and challenged him and he was proud of the significant role he had played in the development of the robotics now enabling the production of alternative sources of energy on newly discovered planet Argon. This new and apparently infinite reservoir of energy was already on stream in Greater Britain, as the UK was now known, putting an end to the political and civil unrest caused by the misery of power cuts that had seen darkened cityscapes and cold, unlit homes, as fossil fuels had diminished and rogue Eastern European governments had cut fuel lines of supply.
But had his work made him neglectful of his home life? He hadn’t thought so, but maybe he had become preoccupied over the years, too tired when he got home to play the loving husband and attentive father, but he had tried his best. And then there were his friends, disappointed at first when he couldn’t always make it to the game or the night at the pub, then increasingly fed up with being let down till he didn’t see that much of them these days. He was trying to be all things to all men and it didn’t appear to be working out that well. Why hadn’t this occurred to him before? Which aspect of his life was most important to him, was he the dedicated scientist who would sacrifice, home life, social life, in order to achieve and advance, and not just for the salary which made his comfortable home a reality?
All this had led him to develop the AltMan project way beyond the original specifications. His promotion to Deputy Leader gave him the opportunity to work alone in his own laboratory often till late at night perfecting clones of himself, perfect Reuben copies, each one dedicated to fulfil the different aspects of character that made him who he is. Rousing himself from his reverie he left the bullet and quickly made his way to the BioEarth building. He routinely arrived and left before his colleagues these days so other than the security guard in the foyer he met no-one. His day passed in a whirl of tests; in conversations with the perfect clones of himself he had built. First, husband Reuben, programmed to love, care, cherish, to feel human emotions but not to anger. Then friend Reuben, who would meet with his mates, go to the pub, the football, practice guitar with the band that would never get a gig, was a complete waste of time other than it filled the empty hours for people who had nothing better to do. Reuben Sprinkler had much more important things to occupy his time. The development of artificial intelligence was his life’s work, he loved the androids he helped create and build and that were now themselves making the world a better place for man to live.
At last the evening arrived and he knew it would be easy to leave the building accompanied by his two creations, Reuben 1, the husband, and Reuben 2, the friend. He gave them caps to wear so the security guard wouldn’t freak out at the sight of three identical Reuben Sprinklers. Getting past him was thrilling and buying two extra train tickets gave him a kick. Heart pounding, he reached home and sent in Reuben 1, concealing himself and Reuben 2 outside. He half expected to hear a scream as Georgia and the kids realised an android was masquerading as their husband and father, but nothing happened. A furtive look through the kitchen window saw a happy smiling family seated round the table as “daddy” dished up dinner. With a smile to himself Reuben now took Reuben 2 to the Queen’s Arms, the local pub where his friends did their band practice in a back room before having a pint or several. Reuben 2 made his way in whilst the real Reuben loitered discreetly outside in case something went wrong. After a while he heard strains of music, tentative at first, then building into a version of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, the guitar taking the lead whilst the bass and drums struggled to keep up. Reuben had never been able to play like that, but Reuben 2 had obviously benefited from listening to the ipod he always took to work with him.
Things were going well. Reuben could merge and replace with his clones at will. At first he felt a pang that his wife and family and his friends could not detect the absence of his real self, indeed seemed happier with the clones, often saying he was having an off day or had “got out of the wrong side of the bed” when he chose to be with them. And he could never play guitar like Reuben 2. Gradually he began to withdraw from his beloved family and his friends, allowing the clones to take over those aspects of his life, or his “duties” as he had begun to regard them. He retreated more and more into his work, there he felt fulfilled and excited by the developments in artificial intelligence, the increasing range and depth of the androids he had been so crucial in building. But the lack of a home and social life began to affect Reuben in ways he had not considered might happen. His promotion to deputy leader had already separated him from his former colleagues, who felt uneasy indulging in the banter they had previously enjoyed so much, and now most of his contact with them was in formal meetings, likewise with his superiors. Jeff Nugent and Trish McClure who Reuben had regarded as friends as well as colleagues had been a little saddened but not really surprised when he first distanced himself from them but now they felt that he was wasting away before their eyes. He seemed like a pale, grey version of his former self, who only lived for his work and never mentioned the wife and family he used to talk about so much or the friends who he spent so much time with and how their band was going nowhere but was having a great time whilst it got there! They began to refer to him as “The Ghost”.
For himself, Reuben was dimly aware that something was happening to him, that he had gradually relinquished his family life and his social life to the clones he had created. They seemed to be making a much better job of it than he had latterly, and his wife and kids and his friends were happier with the cloned Reuben’s 1 and 2 than they had been with him, the “real” Reuben. He began to wonder who the real Reuben was, him or them. Still, at least now he could devote himself to the work he so loved. He never bothered even going for a peek through the kitchen window anymore or to stand outside The Queens on a Tuesday night as drinkers gathered to hear the band “with the guitarist who plays like the legendary Eric Clapton”. Instead he devoted himself to the sleek, super intelligent creatures which were solving the earth’s energy crisis.
Reuben had taken the project far beyond its remit when he cloned himself and now he felt unable to stick within the limits of the project when he knew his androids were capable of so much more. He had created Reuben 1 to take over his family life, to be the caring, emotional being that his wife and children wanted, who he had felt unable to sustain and Reuben 2 to fulfil the laddish, guitar playing side of him that his friends wanted. It seemed logical to progress to Reuben 3 to see if he could clone his work side. When Reuben 3 was ready to come on stream, to see if his laboratory built brain was up to the task of continuing Reuben’s work on the project, Reuben was feeling more alive than he had felt for some time, anxious, proud, afraid, he was not sure what of. The joy that filled him as the android solved an equation, the solution to which had eluded him and teased his brain for some weeks, made him feel like he would burst.
Over the next weeks he watched the creature that looked exactly like him, talked like him but who’s thought processes were so much more advanced than his own, uncluttered by human detritus. Gradually he began to stand back more, Reuben 3 was more than capable of doing his work, attending meetings, solving problems, in fact he had needed to refer less and less to the real Reuben. Reuben Sprinkler began to fade. The clones he had built to help him with what he had looked on as his identity crisis, was he a scientist, a loving family man or just one of the lads, had taken on those identities. Because they could devote themselves entirely to each separate aspect, they were making a better job of it than he had been able to. Reuben Sprinkler faded away as though he had never been. He who had tried to be all things to all men was now nothing.