"Author's note: I think this is one of my weakest short stories. Something about it feels off; most of it feels empty. Putting it here to hopefully see if readers feel the same way. Story is about 2500 words. It's sci-fi, I guess. I suspect punctuation and sentence structure screwups -- apologies."
Alan woke up. He'd never felt so invigorated before. This had to have been the best sleep he'd ever had. His body felt brand-new; his mind had entirely forgotten about the massive stresses that his ground-breaking project had been piling on to him for years now.
He opened his eyes, hoping to take in the morning rays with newfound enthusiasm, and quickly get to his work before this feeling escaped him. Except, there were no morning rays to take in. Strange. He sat up straight. His sleeping-pod beneath him slackened and beeped, detecting that he had gotten up. He felt around the dark room he was in, but where he'd usually find his personal holographic infocube floating next to his sleeping-pod, which he'd use to read about any new developments in the scientific branches he'd devoted his life to, he instead felt the far more unwieldy and clunky shapes of his own machinery - he'd recognize them anywhere. They were industrial and looked ancient; not aesthetically refined in the slightest. They took up most of the room, but compactness wasn't really a priority right now - this design was just a proof of concept.
"Lights on," he said. The room was flooded with the gentle, white light that lit up everything whilst never being a strain on the eyes. Alan's suspicions had been right - this was his basement. But of course it was, his machinery was here after all. The crudely-built room existed far below the rest of his home, with no natural light being necessary. Well, natural light hadn't been necessary for decades of course, but Alan had always liked it - he was a tad eccentric and not afraid to admit it. Still, this basement that housed his big project was the one place that he'd always wanted to seem completely artificial. But why?
He began to walk around the room. He spotted the small computer system on the far right of the room flashing the date 23/5/3012. As he walked, he noticed that his legs felt incredibly youthful, as if they had years of energy in them that hadn't been used. Perhaps it was the sleeping-pod? Of course, that must be it. This extra sleeping-pod that he kept in his basement must be much better than the one upstairs that he usually slept in. Perhaps the one upstairs was faulty? He'd have to remember to switch them around. But why had he fallen asleep in this one last night? Could he have been so caught up in his project that he'd worked himself to exhaustion down here?
This was a troubling thought. For one, Alan had always tried to keep his work routine dipped into the brink of healthy, and falling asleep in his basement was absolutely unacceptable; but for another, it quickly alerted Alan that he was missing vital memories. He couldn't remember what exactly he'd been doing last night, or indeed, for over a week. Today was the 23rd of May? He could've sworn that yesterday was the 14th. He could hardly remember the reasonings for any decisions he had made throughout his entire life - he only remembered that they'd happened. The last thing he definitely remembered doing was last week's neural upload into his... project...
He panicked. He shuddered. The legs that had felt so strong suddenly buckled, and he fell to the ground as he turned around to stare at the sleeping-pod he had just woken up from; the sleeping-pod that was being fed by various metal tubes and wires coming from all his machines; the sleeping-pod that should not have been empty.
Pushing away the crippling fear; trying to force down the existential dread that engulfed his thoughts, he faintly stepped over to the computer system on the opposite side to his machinery. He opened up his log. He read through the updates he'd recorded about his project; he read through the updates that he did not remember recording.
15/2/3012 - [F] The body did not survive. It died as soon as the pod was opened. The body was blackened. Assumed it might be a machinery fault, but further inspection indicates that the body cells somehow electrocuted themselves upon exposure. Body was sent to the SRAO for disposal.
Note: Will have to find new method of fusing and growing body cells. Try to use less latent electricity.
21/4/3012 - New body appears to have grown healthily. New accelerated growth methods seem viable.
20/5/3012 - [S] Body completed development successfully. Memory uploads will commence after brain scans.
25/5/3012 - [S] Brain healthy.
31/5/3012 - [S] Neural upload into specimen appears successful.
7/5/3012 - [S] Neural upload into specimen appears successful.
14/5/3012 - [S] Neural upload into specimen appears successful.
17/5/3012 - [S] 3 neural uploads have been successful. Brain should now have assimilated all of my memories as of 14/5/3012. The brain appears to function completely normally over long periods of time. Neural links for all uploaded memories appear to be developing.
20/5/3012 - Brain and rest of body continues to function. May begin out-of-pod testing again soon.
22/5/3012 - [S] The body appears to be capable of surviving now. Opened up the sleeping pod temporarily to test it again. Although the last specimen's cells immediately deteriorated, this one does not seem to have had any negative reaction. Pod was closed before the specimen woke up. May have to contact the SRAO to be present for a full test soon.
Alan could barely fathom what was happening. He felt empty. He was hardly breathing as he shuddered and stared. His mind raced. Could it be true? Perhaps he had simply finally turned insane? That would be a more desirable circumstance.
"No no no," he thought desperately. This couldn't be right. He was missing something. Yes, some small but vital detail that would end this paranoid theory. It had to be there, he just had to rack his brains and remember it.
The project. He'd been creating a... well, science-fiction from a century ago would have called it a clone. This was more than a clone. No, it was less than a clone. It was a replica of existence. An artificial being. Revolutionary, of course, if it worked. Perhaps never to be shown to the public, but to the ones at the top of the Agencies, it would mean that no expertise would ever have to die out again.
The SRAO had funded him. He knew them well - he'd worked for them on so many projects, albeit none as ambitious as this one. They'd given him free reign - no deadlines; no contingencies. He was an expert in this field and they trusted him.
And then... what? Nothing? Not a trace of memory for over a week? He would have slaved over this project for as long as he could, every day - he knew that. It was stupid that he couldn't remember working on it this week. It was stupid, and he hated himself for not remembering. He hated himself because he knew what the explanation was. He was the artificial. Deep down, he knew. He was too intelligent to not know, and it made him angry.
He wondered what he would do. Or, more correctly, what would happen to him. They wouldn't give him any say in it - that was never in the plan. The mere fact that he was even awake now must have been a mistake. The sleeping-pod had opened by itself. Emergency protocol, perhaps; a contingency put in place to avoid sleeping-pods trapping people inside them. But his project - was it even his? - had no contingencies. He was a malfunction, but they had no solution. Surely this gave him the advantage? He would escape. Yes, yes, he had to. Staying here was not an option. The SRAO and the other Alan wouldn't care about a word he said - he was just the latest specimen. He knew himself - he would not have cared either. He could not leave his fate in anyone else's hands - he had to escape. Alan wasn't well-known by anyone outside of the SRAO; his face wouldn't be recognized. He'd just have to run somewhere far away and adopt a new identity. He'd work out the details later - for now he just had to get away.
He had almost made it to the first step of the large stairway that led up and out of the basement when he heard the door at the top of it click. He froze. Too late. He ran back and hid himself as best he could underneath his machinery. Damn, he thought. Of course he was here. Alan; himself. He would work in this basement every hour of every day - he knew that. He shouldn't have wasted the small amount of time he had had it to himself for. He started to panic again as he heard the door slide open, and saw the rays of natural light glide down the staircase to interrupt the artificial lighting of the room, until the door closed again. Alan's footsteps made their way down.
It was hopeless. His panicking mind told him that with the utmost sincerity. He would still try to hide, of course. If he could just stay hidden until Alan left the room again, perhaps frantic about the missing specimen, then he could escape. But he wasn't confident. How hidden was he underneath this machinery? He could still see the room he was in, which meant Alan would be able to see him if he happened to look in this direction closely enough. And when Alan realises that the specimen is missing, surely the first thing he would instinctively do is check around the machinery?
The real Alan was getting nearer now. He had descended the stairs. The Alan under the machinery could make out his figure taking his characteristically small steps. He saw the real Alan pause for a second, noticing the computer system showing his log open, and then disregarding it, presumably believing that he had simply forgotten to close it yesterday. To the Alan under the machinery's dismay, the real Alan began walking towards him and the sleeping pod. He would notice it being empty. Shortly after, he would notice the Alan under the machinery. And then it would be over.
But then something happened. Something that could either imply that some mistake had been made while uploading Alan's mind to the artificial body; or imply that the real Alan had always had deep-rooted problems that he'd just kept hidden. Whatever the reasoning may be, something in the artificial mind clicked when he saw the real Alan's face from his hiding position - the face that not many people would recognize, except him, because it was also his own face. He had been talking about adopting new identities, but didn't he already have one? Wasn't his identity currently standing just above him, worrying about an empty sleeping-pod? Of course it was. It was so clear now. He wouldn't enjoy doing it, of course, but he fully committed to the idea that he had to do it.
As quietly as he could, he ripped out a power cable from the machinery. He had all of Alan's memories, of course, so it was as if these truly were his own machines - he knew every inch of them inside and out, and had no trouble picking a power cable that would not make any of the machines falter so obviously that his position would be given away. The thing surged with energy in his hand. It drained a massive amount of electricity, and yet, had no obvious safety features - because Alan would never be so careless as to electrocute himself. Or so he thought.
He could just make out the real Alan's figure moving this way and that, right in front of him, clearly desperate to figure out where the specimen had gone. He waited for Alan to reach the nearest position, and then, before he had any chance to falter, he jumped up, and thrust the surging, sparking power cable squarely into the real Alan's neck. The electricity did not hesitate. Alan could not even make a sound. The electricity attacked every inch of his being, until his body was left black and charred.
Murder is a strange thing, thinks the new Alan. Is it murder for one version of a person to kill another version of themselves? Quietly, he stows the power cable away, after some work pulling it out of its home in the dead body to which it had grown fairly attached. He gently peels off the body's clothes, including the lab coat, and wears them as his own. Inside the lab coat, he finds, just where he knew he'd find, a white, holographic card, with the words "Science and Research of Aritifcal Organisms" labelled at the top, and Alan's picture underneath it. Alan's SRAO ID card. Something he should have kept more secure, but then, what could Alan have kept hidden from himself? The ID would be the final thing he needed. Now there would never be any doubt.
Alan picked up the charred body and carefully placed it in the sleeping-pod. He felt no sympathy; he had already adopted the role entirely. He, Alan, had made another mistake in the project. There was still too much latent electricity in the development of the cells. They electrocuted themselves. Body was burnt as black as the previous specimen. Body will be sent to the SRAO for disposal. He wrote all of this down in the computer system's log. "23/5/3012 - [F]".
Now, he would simply have to go to the SRAO, present his ID if they asked for it, and have his trusted employers get rid of the original Alan's remains discreetly - as they had always done in order to keep their reputation intact. He would then explain that he no-longer believed in the project, dismantle the machinery, and carry on with his life.