The Copy is the single most innovative invention in the history of the world. In layman’s terms, in a brief period of time, a donor can duplicate all his knowledge and learning and transfer this package to a recipient, who in turn, saves decades of time acquiring these collective works for himself. Research beginning with one person may extend, uninterrupted, to another, with the identical fervor. The recipient can stand on the shoulders of his predecessor (so to speak) and extend his reach far beyond limits of time of inquiry and the depths of examination. It should take decades to fully comprehend the benefits of The Copy and the extent by which it may be utilized. However, it takes only minutes to remember the disaster from which it originated. In theory, the procedure for uploading and transfer is painless to both parties. At least now it is. Previous to my work, The Copy was at best dangerous and horrific. The process may not have copied first, but only transferred the donor’s knowledge and learning, leaving him an empty mental shell. Or the recipient may lose his original knowledge and learning only to receive the donor’s. The disoriented usually proved suicidal. On a few occasions, both parties became physically injured (video of which is too ghastly for publication or public consumption) or, more often than not, the effects were only temporary (thus, diminishing the benefits when weighed against the risks). For all of these reasons, I decided to discontinue further uses of The Copy, in the best interest of all. I have abandoned all research associated with The Copy and will no longer respond to any inquests for information. Professor Herbert Talmridge, PhD, Psychology World, November, 2103.

“Welcome, Professor Talmridge. I hope you are feeling better. The bruises usually heal quickly and I’ll have someone attend to your dehydration momentarily. I assume you know who I am? I certainly know who you are.”

I did. Everyone did.

My facial expression answered his last question to his satisfaction. “Good. Very good, Professor. We can dispense with trivial introductions.” I waited through his dramatic pause for him to continue. “Let’s continue with this current tempo. You are an intelligent man. Do you know why you are here?

I said The Copy. It was always about The Copy.

“Excellent! We are making good progress and I want to continue. Yes. I have brought you here, against your will, because of The Copy.” Another pause, maybe for him to think. Maybe for him to watch me thirst for the glass of water just out of my reach. He knew it was for both.

“I will be brief, for neither one of us has much time. In a few hours, my father, President Martin Andrews, will succumb to his deteriorating health, aggravated by his advanced years, and die. At that moment, I will be the new President of the United States. I would like you to assist me. In return, I will assist you. In short, I offer an equitable exchange. Are you following me, Professor?”

Kidnapping and patronizing are elements of a very dangerous game. From what I knew of Johnathon Andrews, he was crazy enough to initiate such a plan. Was he smart enough to see it to fruition?

“I will cut to the chase. As of right now, under my father’s orders, your family is under arrest for sedition. You are under arrest for whatever charge I decide. The contents of your laboratory are in the adjacent room. What I want is very simple. What I offer is simpler.”

His face now revealed a small tic. He realized that I realized its presence and became somewhat aggravated upon speaking the last few words. I know his father kept Johnathon on a short leash. If it wasn’t so surreal, I would be listening to the old man and not his son.

“What I want is for you to use The Copy one more time so I will know all you know, which includes how to operate The Copy.” This one sentence explained his entire plan. Most people, myself included, believed Johnathon Andrews wanted his father’s knowledge. Now I understand. With my knowledge, he could obtain everyone’s knowledge. This explained my captivity.

“I understand I could go to other technicians, but why risk certain failure and pain? You are the only person to have ever conducted the procedure with a 100% safety record for both parties involved. Furthermore, you are the only person with a 100% permanent recipient retention rate. If you agree to this, I will call my father. He will immediately issue presidential pardons to your family members. Their suffering will end immediately. However, so will yours. Because you will always be a threat to me, you will have to die. Say yes, and I will offer to you a timed released capsule of hemlock. This can only befit a man so enamored by the life of Socrates to write two books about him that you must surely want to emulate his demise.”

And if I say no?

“Saying no says no to your family. Saying no says yes to a series of unfortunate events to each of them. Shall we avoid such unpleasantness? I for one, shun even the thought of that outcome.” His voice echoed his distaste with even mentioning the alternative. I heard it raise a single octave in timber just by uttering the word, “outcome.” I noticed an ever so indistinguishable amount of increased airflow President-to-be Johnathon Andrews required after he made his offer. It might be lost on a neophyte, but not me. In poker, this is a Tell. As of now, I have enjoyed the singular prospect of scrutiny on a likewise singular candidate, albeit briefly. I weighed my options and spoke.

I said, maybe.

Upon hearing that, he paced back and forth venting his frustration, displaying the vocal range of a dying Harpy during a difficult childbirth. The former, combined with his effeminate gesticulation, forced me to rethink his candidacy for my assistance. Maybe I should permit such a persona to remain intact, available for others to examine, in ways that I have not even considered. Others would have the time I did not. Others may even find a cure for his behavior. Or at least, be able to categorize it and diagnose the same in others.

Nonetheless, I am certain, Johnathon Andrews, most unremarkable Johnathon Andrews, son of deathly ill, President-for-Life Martin Andrews, does not deserve The Copy.

But he will still want it.

He will want my assistance in ways no language can accurately describe or catalog. He will crave, he will hunger, he will lust, and he will covet. All of this and so much more.

So very much more.

“I don’t think you quite understand the situation you find yourself. You exist because of me and me alone.” I saw his nostrils flair. Now I witnessed the real Johnathon Andrews. Emotional control remains a distant vision for him. “If my father dies prematurely, the safety of your family becomes void. Only he can rescind their fate. Time is of the essence and you know it.” If this was his final performance, perhaps such a display could pique my curiosity. Today, so far, I am barely witnessing an opening act.

I see spittle. I hear mouth breathing. I detect little in the way of maturity. What is sad is that Mr. Andrews just continued his non-stop tirade. I have been an avid fan of theater since my youth. I’ve seen a number of plays. I wish he delivered, Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow, or Alas, Poor Yorrick, or something of the like. What I received bordered on pedestrian and crossed into pathetic. How can this man-child follow his father? What is funny is that he might actually benefit from my assistance. I had not thought in this reference before my forced incarceration. I gave it a moment’s consideration while the second page of his monologue played out. I paid no attention and resolved never to. If there ever was an opportunity to change my mind about Johnathon Andrews, that opportunity departed as humiliated as it arrived.

“What is your answer? Where you even listening? Why do I even bother?” As he turned to leave the room, I said yes. This caught the young Mr. Andrews off guard. Good! He should find himself on shaky footing every once in a while. It might even build character.

So I took the pill and drank the water. With no fanfare, no pomp, no circumstance, I became a dead man in name only. Soon, my deceased condition would extend to the whole of my body. It might be presumptuous to believe I had another choice. The die was cast long before Mr. Andrews escorted me to my detention. I knew that he knew that my actions originated not of if, but of when. Let history remember I crossed my Rubicon just before sunrise on my last remaining day of life. Let Mr. Andrews learn this reference belongs only to Caesar and not for the faint of heart.

Now my motions became as deliberate as the ticking of the clock. To fulfill my end of the bargain, I needed four hours of my remaining five hours. Without hesitation, I labored, unrestricted, as per the details of our agreement. My guards knew of my honesty and gave way. Mr. Andrews relished his new future and made little effort to examine my procedures. Why should he? In a brief period of time, he would receive the entire catalog of my research. He would then know everything I knew. He did not have to painstakingly learn each method. He did not have to experiment and hypothesize. He could even forgo the usual pretense of publishing and earning the accolades that befit a man of my learned years.

Mr. Martin Andrews transferred his presidential pardon to the surviving members of my family (freeing them from their captivity). Mr. Johnathon Andrews would receive The Copy, in its entirety. All the knowledge, all the data, everything I know of who I am (or in a few hours, who I was). He could sort and sift through decades of learning in but a few seconds. This is what he demanded, and plotted, and destroyed to obtain. I am the puppet with the golden strings. They are my last asset. These, the puppet master wants. Not the puppet, just the strings. Once acquired, the puppet basically becomes kindling. This is my fate to secure the future of my family. In the end, my death is but a necessity, similar to a period at the end of a sentence. Not that anyone calls for a formal declaration to the end of an obvious complete sentence, but the grammar police do require the ceremony.

When we both awoke, I first, then the heir to the Presidency, all I could do was smile. I knew The Copy succeeded. That, itself, did not induce the level of elation the clock on the wall did. It displayed a full hour remaining. The monitor now displayed millions of subjects in forced bereavement for the dearly departed Martin Andrews. I waited for Johnathon Andrews to rub his eyes and steady his breathing. It is always easier on the donor than the recipient. Today is no different. He would soon learn his fate; as would I.

My coughs coincided with my euphoria of my penultimate success. The physicians declared the heir apparent ready for his inauguration. They soon began their superfluous diagnosis of me. My Socratic death was assured.

He slowly began this day as a new man. He found truth, wisdom, and knowledge. He also found Karma.

And I awaited his questions. I was keenly aware that the first question follows the first scream. It always does. In theory, today was no different. In reality, it was.

Only because of the volume of the scream and it’s endless duration.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! You sick bastard! What did you do to me?” Mr. Andrews held his head as a survivor of decompression sickness would. Or as a witness to its ugliness. Or both. “All I wanted was your knowledge.” Another agonizing, terrifying scream; more would follow.

So would the guards and their guns. So would my convulsions. The poisonous effects were beginning to take their toll. I decided to be proactive. I do not believe the soon-to-be President-for-Life has the emotional control to form a coherent thought under such mental duress. So I began my final soliloquy in the hopes to please the readers of posterity.

“Mister President, if I may be so bold, congratulations on your new employment. May you live a long life. Not a healthy life, but a long, very long life. What you are experiencing is the installment of not just my memories, but the memories of my donor and his research concerning the graphic, disruptive, and disturbing deaths of his test subjects used to perfect The Copy. Most departures are quite grim. Each of them has both a visual, audible, and olfactory component. A few even leave you with a taste sensation. The pain and the memories are as permanent as the faces and their cries for help. You cannot remove any of these memories, just as I can’t.” Here, I had to pause to regain what little strength I had remaining before the systemic displacement of hemlock ravaged my body. This pause gave Mr. Andrews an opportunity to reflect on his previous desires and time his next question between his screaming.

“I can’t get them out of my head! How do you deal with the images and the suffering? How do you manage the pain?”

Mr. Andrews laid my last success at my feet. I had enough strength and enough time to prove my mettle.

“I deal with the agony because I am not a scientist, but really, an actor. The problem is (and soon to be, was) I am not a great actor by any measure of commercial success. In my youth, I fancied theatre, until the government dictated them all null and void.” The poison began a full attack on my respiratory system. Death is now imminent so I must remain brief. “I needed a new occupation. Having few marketable skills and only my innate talent, I decided to be a recipient of the originator’s research. In short, I did not invent The Copy—the procedure of duplicating the knowledge, the data, and everything known of the inventor. I am just the first recipient to survive it. What I received was both a blessing and a curse. My patience permitted the gradual adoption of the knowledge. My underused thespian talent allowed me to mask the emotional pain I suffered from experiencing what you are now experiencing. Without the combination of both these abilities, I most likely would have gone insane. Mr. President, do you have anything similar within you to defend yourself?”

The reply of constant agony answered my question.

“Before I die (my breathing difficulties forced me to move to the floor) and before you do go insane, remember, The Copy only replicates everything known by the donor. It does not transfer attributes inherently possessed by the donor. Thus, almost everything I have is accessible to you.”

Little is written of President-to-be Johnathon Andrew’s last day. Rumormongers from the outside of the detention area report violent screaming that eventually ended in a sobbing cry for help. The security of the area permitted no external assistance. None was offered.

About the Author

Andy Betz

With degrees in Physics and Chemistry, Andy Betz has tutored and taught in excess of 30 years. His novel (The Lady in Red Quilt), his short stories (The Copy, November, My Bucket List), and his poems (Lonely, Long Enough for Chocolate) are works still defining his style. He lives in 1974, is married for 25 years, collects occupations (the current tally is 95) and currently teaches high school physics.