Author's note: Now that I feel marginally caught-up with school and a little less panicked, here's some more words for you about our heroes. The last time we saw them, they were sitting inside somewhere, saying important things, and looking very serious.
It took a while, but with great patience I was finally able to coax a coherent explanation out of him. When I finally got it, I coughed to cover the laugh that bubbled up from my chest. It was an absurd concept. So, half joking, I asked him to show me what he meant.
Let me tell you, it was weird.
He made us leave the bar first. We walked a little ways down the street. At some point, clouds had covered the sky, and the sun cast a diluted grey tone over everything. They weren’t your normal grey clouds either, but deep, dangerous blue, the kind that presaged heavy storms back in the old Midwest. Gutters lined the streets here, newly installed less than a year ago to cope with the rain that made it past the weather controller (which, incidentally, brought the rain in the first place). Installed in the proverbial nick of time, the first rainstorm had come three days later. The precipitation, while not catastrophic by any means, still overflowed a sewer system not tested holding that volume of water. Nobody wanted a repeat of that. Still, when the rain clouds came in—scheduled weekly, every Saturday—pedestrians still edged away from the absorption drains, the memory of ankle-deep water in the desert apparently a hard memory to shake completely.
He led me to the alley in which we’d met—the alley outside our apartment. I thought he would go inside, maybe for the familiarity of home or whatever, but he stopped outside the door and turned to me. And as soon as he did that, I realized that he had… well, he had done it.
“You don’t have to be nervous,” Jamie told me.
“I’m not,” I lied.
Jamie was smiling again, but it was his predatory smile, the one with all the teeth in it. Not a nice smile. My first impression, right then, was that he was about to go for my jugular. But as the seconds ticked by—and he just stared at me, our mutual silence exposing my lie—I began to realize that it wasn’t necessarily a dangerous smile. It was less threat and more amusement, as though what he saw was something pathetically funny, and he wasn’t pouncing yet because it was amusing him, like a cat watching a damaged mouse.
“Huh,” he said.
“So,” I said, not sure what I was supposed to be saying or doing now that he had done exactly what I asked him to do.
“I suppose,” said Jamie, “you want to talk about it.” I nodded. “That’s fine. Why don’t we go inside?”
“Why?” I asked a bit too quickly. The thought of being in an enclosed space with this wolf and his hyena grin gave me pause.
In response, Jamie simply pointed up. It was a dismissive gesture, the kind that you use when you want to convey that the guy you’re talking about, you know, the one who dumped your best friend by email… yeah, that guy. Except it was the sky that he indicated, and it was still just as dismissive.
And at that moment, the rain started.
I nodded curtly, and we went inside.
His name was James (he said), and he was born when he took the tasp for the first time.
The tasp is a drug that induces physiological changes. In a way, it was like a reset button, in that it read your genetic code—the original one, the copy contained in each of your cells—and worked with that as part of its blueprint. The result was that the changes it made were basically based on how your body thought it should be, and not how it actually was. After his body mended, Jamie somehow got it into his head that he was also emotionally damaged, and that, given enough time, the drug would be able to fix that as well.
“Self-fulfilling prophecy,” Jamie—James—told me, “is a wonderful thing.”
Most likely, the tasp wasn’t actually capable of inducing multiple personalities. But if the user was already trending that way anyway, the drug apparently did nothing to curb that trend.
Little Jamie had been a quiet kid, the kind that you usually forgot was there. He wouldn’t be at your party, but he’d listen to you talk about it in class, and you’d get the feeling he wished you would just invite him, so he could show you he wasn’t as weird as everyone said he was.
And then, he starts to think that he should maybe dress a little differently. Perhaps he should just bluff his way through uncomfortable situations. He did, and realized that he gained confidence as a result—not because he always knew the right thing to say, but because how he said it became just as important as whatever it was. He found his charisma. At the same time, he felt himself losing his grip, becoming someone other than how he thought of himself. He wrapped a panicked trickle of thought around that, tethering his old self to his new, but not incorporating it. He continued to worry that whatever came out of his mouth would be wrong, but he would occasionally realize that he knew how to fake it anyway. Eventually, part of him thought he should give himself a more grown-up name.
“Ah,” I said, staring into the face of a sentient creature that was, in some small way, more alien than any person with whom I have ever interacted.
“I don’t want you to be nervous around me,” James said, tapping the coffee table with his bare, furred foot. “I am not going to hurt you.”
“I know,” I lied. “I figured you’re still, you know, you or whatever. I’m just, uh, learning a new side to you.”
He chuckled, and I was struck by how normal sounding it was. Just a chuckle, like I’d told him a joke. “It’s amusing,” he said, seeing that I didn’t get it, “because in a very, supremely metaphorical sense, you literally are.”