Exploits of a Midnight Traveler (Part 35)

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It took 15 minutes to find a bar, but I was grateful to walk that instead of run or be led at gun point. As side streets led to more public sidewalks, I was aware of how much of the night I wore. Grime from the elevator shaft on my shirt. Bruises from two car wrecks on my cheeks. Burns from a blow torch fight on my hands.

“What can I get you, friend?” the bartender asked in perfect English. It was a lucky break with perfect timing.

“I don’t care as long as it’s strong,” I said on my way past.

I had the place to myself and shuffled to a booth in the back, dropping heavy onto the wooden bench. With my forehead on the cool table, I closed my eyes. I might have slept if the bartender didn’t bring my drink.

“Rough night?” he asked and set a glass of amber liquid in front of me, scotch by the smell of it.

“You have no idea,” I shook my head and drained it. Surprise hit his face before a sharp laugh.

“I’ll get you another,” he patted my shoulder and turned to go back to the bar. When he was gone, I closed my eyes again, keeping my head up this time as I rubbed my eyes. There was so much to process, I didn’t know where to start. So much to unpack from my brain, I’d be in nightmares for months. The most normal thing that happened in hours was finding my girlfriend murdered. Every layer underneath it got stranger. Forget the nanites still inside me, now enjoying their nice scotch bath. There were four sets of clones wreaking havoc in Zurich, some wearing my face. Whatever it took to deal with that, I was too tired and overwhelmed to start then. But what choice did I have?

“I’ve seen worse problems,” a familiar voice said across the booth, “but not many.”

It was hard to imagine more intimate things than a voice inside your head, but this buried it six feet deep. I recognized the voice because it was mine. Opening my eyes, I stared into my own smiling face.

“You didn’t think this would end so easy, did you?” he said.

“Please leave me alone,” I begged.

He squinted as if considering it but shook his head. “I think I’ll stay right here.”

“What do you want?”

“Me? Not a damn thing, but there are a lot of people who do. You know too much to just walk away.”

“I don’t know anything.”

The bartender came back and set down another glass of scotch.

“You know about underground labs and government puppet masters. You know about me, and that’s not good.”

“I’ve never seen him before in my life,” I told the bartender. “Even if he does look like me.”

The bartender gave me a strange look and stepped backward, never glancing to the other side of the booth. As strange as that seemed, stranger still was the breaking news on the television behind him. The sound was muted, but the pictures told enough. Someone blew up a hotel and wrecked a car a few blocks away. More recently, they’d burned a couple of warehouse workers to death. According to the passport photo on the screen, that someone was me. Luckily, I had a scapegoat nearby.

“It was him,” I jabbed a finger at my clone, eyes switching from the screen to the bartender.

“Who?” he asked and looked more than a little scared.

“You don’t get it yet, do you?” my clone asked.

“Shut up,” I told him.

“Get out,” the bartender said.

“I bet you didn’t know Swiss until a few minutes ago.”

“I don’t,” I shook my head. “He’s speaking English.”

“I’m calling the police,” the bartender ran behind the bar.

“I think those stray nanites are tinkering with your brain,” the clone smiled wide.

“You don’t exist,” I muttered and covered my face with my hands.

“Maybe not,” he said. “But the real question is ‘does the bar?’.”

PART 36

Exploits of a Midnight Traveler (Part 1)

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ZURICH, Switzerland (JUNE 4)

We had the greatest week of our lives as we were free to do whatever we pleased after graduation. Lila always dreamed of going to Switzerland and I followed her because she was my closest friend in the world. She studied European history and imagined a past life there. We saw all the sights. Lake Zurich. The churches. The museums. We spent two days in Konstanz and had our first kiss. I was smooth and leaned in as we watched the sunset over the lake. Lila had long brunette hair and tan skin. The trip was everything I ever wanted and imagined.

Everything changed when Lila said she was going to the lobby to meet an old friend who had driven a long way to see her. Not wanting to seem jealous, I said it was cool, but waited six minutes before sneaking out the room to see what she was up to. I took the stairs just in case she forgot something. Along the edge of the main corridor I walked. Only an older man with an oversized grey mustache and old blue suit noticed my stealth mode. I peeked around the corner to find Lila chatting with a guy I thought I recognized, but didn’t. I snooped from a distance and waited.

And waited.

They talked for an hour. At the end of the chat, they exchange handshakes and she returned to the room. I followed the man out as far as I could and saw him leave in a black Mercedes. This seemed highly unusual; I needed to ask Lila what was going on. I took my time returning to the room as I needed to gather my thoughts. Lila wasn’t a girl who liked being confronted. I swiped my keycard to the room and entered.

Lila was on the floor. Blood soaked into the carpet by her head. I leaned in next to her with trembling hands. “Lila … lila …” I shook her arm and turned her over.

She was dead.

I cursed and looked around the room for clues.

Then there was a knock at the door.

PART 2