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Waltzing with Sharks

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The two of you show up in matching suits for dinner. He’s telling you, as he slicks back his hair in the mirror, that it’s just the usual political here-and-there, like you have any idea what he’s talking about. You tell him grreeeeeat don’t let me keep you, just in case he really thinks you actually do know what he’s talking about. You don’t want to spoil it, on the off chance.

“Oh heck no,” he says, making a little psshh gesture with his left hand. “You’re coming with me. Wait till the guys from Cuba get a look at us.”

“Cuba?” you echo, losing track of your bow tie. Great, now you’ve got to start over. “You run the tristate area, what are you having foreign ambassadors over for?”

He puts his hands on his hips. It looks awfully compelling, you don’t know how he pulls off half the things he does. “Well naturally Danville is a sovereign city state,” he tells you, rolling his eye.

“Eheh. Uh, naturally.”

“The world’s biggest exporter of robotic appendages,” he adds, turning his attention back to his reflection in the towering mirror. “Second biggest importer of lawn gnomes. Switzerland beat us in the last quarter but I think we’ve got the next one in the bag.”

“Oh,” you say.

“It’s quiiiiiite a stranglehold we’ve got on the market,” he says, “big players on the international scene, that’s us. Everybody wants a piece of me. Not to mention we have all the doomsday devices, you know just last Thursday I was showing the Chinese president—”

He goes on but it all kind of buzzes right past you. You had no idea that there was anything after successfully taking over the tristate area.

Here and now, the two of you burst through the doors to the dining room in your matching suits. There’s fanfare and a disco ball and yeah, this is style. This is the way to live. You blow a jaunty kiss to the men and women sitting around the sprawling mahogany table as the emperor strides towards his seat at the head of it.

Perryborg is still flanking you though, the way he does whenever you go anywhere that isn’t your double’s office, and that brings you down a little from the swagger-lights-introduction high you’re trying to ride the heck out of right now. He’s so quiet. The suits sitting around the table look at him with wide terrified eyes and you think you could work yourself up to feel smug about that bit, if it wasn’t that—you don’t know, he makes you uneasy.

One of the normbots pulls out a seat for you at the right hand of the table head. Your double doesn’t introduce you, and that’s a little funny, but hey whatever, if he wants to play mysterious mansion with the guests then you’re not gonna spoil his fun. Probably. Well you might get a little over excited and spill something, it’s been known to happen.

You lean in to the guy next to you, the one in the cute little bolo tie. “I used to have one of those,” you say, giving him a comradely grin. “Lost it in a scheme, yanno how it is, great little accessory though—”

He smiles an uncommonly toothy smile at you and practically rips the thing off of his neck in his haste to shove it into your hands.

“Wow!” you say, “That’s generous of you!”

He keeps smiling, sort of wide-eyed? People are a lot friendlier when you’re at the top, you could get used to this.

You turn back to the other you, who’s making a speech about international ties of friendship and good will, and also the fact that he just completed another really impressive doomsday device. All around the room people are eyeing you, trying to figure out what you’re about. You grin at them. Could he be a clone? You imitate their shrill bewildered voices in your head. How can the world support two such handsome devils in the same space? Will we all be sucked into a void and doomed to float helplessly above the event horizon if they touch?

Maybe you’ll come within a millimeter of brushing his hand, just to mess with their heads. Your skin hovering over his skin. The idea appeals.

Around come the plates. You lean over to the guy next to you again, peering into the florid depths of his dinner plate. “Yeouch,” you mutter, “you got the schnitzel-sushi-casserole. He must reeeeally hate you. What country are you from again?”

The guy starts sweating.

Your double makes a noise at the head of the table, where he’s got his chin propped up on his hand, watching you. It sounds like a laugh, mostly.

“Scaring the guests?” he asks you, eye narrow and lips twisted up. “Yeah, that’s pretty fun, but here, lemme show ya the real party games.”

He twirls his hand and, like magic, there’s a remote. It’s just got the one huge red button, and for a minute you think it’s a self-destruct of some kind and you start to turn, look around, figure out what it goes to so you can duck for cover. He just grins though, and he presses the thing down.

The chair beside you rattles—you rear back, out of the line of fire—and then the floor drops out from under it in a whoosh of wet air and hydraulics and you can see down there, where your newly minted acquaintance is making friends with a couple of antsy looking sharks.

People stare very hard at their plates while the screaming dies down.

You look up at him.

He’s got this smile, his chin is still on his fist, and you think that it could be an invitation to share the joke. This feels a lot like when Roger and the village kids used to laugh about you over your head, only this time you’re on the inside. But there’s something—that same something you noticed before—

You recognize as much of yourself in the identical faces of pale dread around this table as you do in the face that is actually, literally yours.