Thursday, March 26, 2015
The Other Car by Paul Levinson
Release date: March 14, 2015
Subgenre: Science fiction, short fiction
James Oleson is beginning to see everything in perfect duplicate - two identical models of cars which are the same down to scuff marks and license plate, two old philosophy books with the same torn pages and inscription in old ink, and twin mail men. Is he losing his mind, or experiencing the birth of a new alternate reality via binary fission?
I came down the stairs from the sports club and saw two identical cars. This surprised me, because only one of the cars was mine. I owned only a single car, no one else in the family had a car, and in fact I had driven here in that one car -- a Prius hybrid I had bought about a year ago.
I looked more closely. Each of the two cars had the same license plate -- mine -- and they both had the same set of scuff marks on the rear left fender. One of the things I really liked about my Prius was how it unlocked automatically as I approached with its digital key in my pocket, but I couldn’t always hear the unlocking, especially in an active, noisy parking lot like this one. I pulled open the door of the car which I was sure was mine -- pretty sure, no, I was positive this was the space in which I had parked it about an hour ago, before my swim. There had been a big red Subaru next to it, on one side, and an empty space on the other.
The Subaru was still here, but now there was a Prius next to mine, identical to it from what I could see, in the space that had previously been empty. It had to be someone else’s, even though it looked the same as mine, down to the plate, unless I was suffering from some kind of strange double vision. I guess someone could have been playing some kind of weird joke on me, someone who had the capacity to make up a phony license plate, and took the time to scout out my car and put similar scuffs on the rear fender. But who? And why?
I wondered if the chip in my keychain had opened this second car. I was tempted to see, but there were other people in the parking lot, and I didn’t want the owner of this other car to see me breaking into it, if he or she came down the stairs or walked out of the elevator at the wrong time -- but, on the other hand, who could blame me, the two cars seemed exactly the same.
I took a step towards the second car--
And she appeared, as if on cue. I’d noticed her and her bathing suit getting out of the pool. She gave me a slight smile now and opened the door to her Subaru. I pretended I had some business on my phone, and waited by my car until she left.
I looked again at the second car -- still identical to mine -- when my phone buzzed, now with some real business. Donna, the secretary in my Philosophy Department at Fordham University, was saying in a message that a student, Dava Hernandez, had an urgent problem regarding her mid-year graduation in February, which was just a month away, and could I come in to my office to see this student right away. “Dava would really appreciate it, Professor Oleson, thank you!” Going into the office was the last thing I wanted to do with this cloned car in my face, but I do like helping my students, and there was a book on my desk that I needed, so … But I couldn’t just leave that car.
Paul Levinson, PhD, is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC. His science fiction novels include The Silk Code (winner of Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel of 1999, author’s cut ebook 2012), Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002, 2013), The Pixel Eye (2003, 2014), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006, 2012), Unburning Alexandria (2013), and Chronica (2014) - the last three of which are also known as the Sierra Waters trilogy, and are historical as well as science fiction. His nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009; 2nd edition, 2012), have been translated into twelve languages. He appears on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the History Channel, NPR, and numerous TV and radio programs. His 1972 LP, Twice Upon a Rhyme, was re-issued in 2010. He was President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, 1998-2001. He reviews television in his InfiniteRegress.tv blog, and was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education's "Top 10 Academic Twitterers" in 2009.