The Backup Plan
Charles C Cole
My widower father obsessed about my getting hurt. He even had me wear an emergency pendant to reach him, with the press of one button, during a crisis.
My friends and I had just graduated from high school so, for the first time in my life, there was a tremendous need to celebrate. I’d kept my grades up, had lettered in track and cross-country, while managing a modest fast-food job. Frankly, I was overdue.
Alcohol was a new experience for me. I was semi-incapacitated after a mere half-beer. My classmates had gathered at an off-the-radar, parent-free party. I was lightly drinking by teen standards, lugging the same can of beer from room to room. But others were experiencing true thirst of one kind or another.
My best friend, Timmy Tuggle, was close to revealing his feelings to fellow “mathlete,” Moira Carrol. He was convinced he just needed more liquid courage. He asked if he could borrow my car. I was in no shape to drive, but I didn’t have the perspective to realize he was worse. Let’s just say that when my father overindulged in spirits, he wasn’t nearly as subtle.
I walked Timmy to the car, gave him the “Be Safe” speech, then went around back to sober up, lying down on someone’s damp towel, with my feet dangling in Melissa Kitney’s pool, alone, taking comfort from the stars.
A phone rang. Someone screamed. I heard bits and pieces. A car had collided with an oil-delivery truck. There were flames. A couple of nerd-friendly jocks argued about whether I’d gone with Timmy. Honestly, all I could think was: “Poor Timmy!” And then: “Dad’s gonna flip!”
I snuck off for alone time, taking the walking trail that connected our two neighborhoods, barefoot, sober and overwhelmed.
Dad thought I was at a sleepover, watching a horror movie marathon. My front door was locked and my keys were with Timmy, so I climbed into Dad’s BMW in the garage and slept.
In the morning, I tried the sliding door off the dining room. Dad would have let our Cairn terrier, Rufus, out for his constitutional. It was unlocked!
Dad sat at the kitchen counter, looking pale and haunted. A second me, New Steve, his back to me, was hunched over the table, drinking down a green smoothie, with a headset on, ACDC blaring.
“You’re alive!” gasped Dad.
“Who was in the car?”
“Timmy. Dad, why are there two of me?”
“Don’t get upset. Don’t give me some Stepford Wives crap. This is redundancy. I’ve been paying for this service for years. When your mom died, I couldn’t risk losing you.”
Dad pressed the front of his matching heart-shaped emergency pendant, which he’d told me had to do with his diabetes.
“Nature of the emergency?” intoned a male voice.
“I need an extraction.”
“On the way.”
Dad turned back to me, as if there had been no interruption, as if I’d seen nothing unusual. “If you died, I had a backup.”
“Cool, but unethical, I suspect. Would you still cry over my loss? Would I still get a funeral?”
“We didn’t have this option when Mom was alive.”
“There are two of me?”
“Remember your concussion in your first high school football game? No son of mine was going to grow up with any disadvantage. And the time you broke your leg weeks before a major cross-country match? You think it’s normal to heal that fast? We had to get you on your feet before it affected your scholarships.”
“You replaced me?”
“Being a parent takes a lot of work. I needed reassurance that one mistake wasn’t going to wipe out years of sweat equity. It was Uncle Bennie’s idea. His company’s been doing this for Third World heads of state for decades. People need peace of mind, stability, a failsafe.”
The doorbell rang. That was quick. Dad patted New Steve on the shoulder gently and gestured toward the front of the house. “Someone’s at the door. Could you do me a favor?”
“Wait!” I said. New Steve looked over at me, and he was not happy. The headset came off dramatically.
“This isn’t good,” New Steve grumbled. “What’s happening?”
“Remember the blackouts?” I asked. “Dad’s overreacted again. And now he’s trying to clean up his mess.”
“I’m not heartless,” countered Dad. “I wouldn’t destroy my own flesh and blood. I’m sending him back to storage.”
“Him? He’s got a name. How does he share my memories?”
“Remember when you couldn’t sleep. Uncle Bennie suggested you use this sensory deprivation cap. Did you ever think it had a lot of wires? It actually backs up your thoughts and experiences to be uploaded when needed. That’s why I get snappish when you refuse to use it. In this case, New Steve has no memories of yesterday, but it couldn’t be helped.”
“Dad, that’s the alcohol talking. You promised Bennie not to overreact.”
“What happened yesterday? Was that the party?” asked New Steve.
The doorbell rang again.
“Uncle Bennie was afraid this day would come,” I explained. “He warned me/us.”
New Steve was catching up. “Something happened?”
“Will you get the door, Dad, while we boys have a talk, please?”
Dad shook his head.
As Dad shuffled to the front of the house, I explained: “Bennie recoded our pendants, yours and mine, for a ‘Dad’ emergency. I gave mine a quick squeeze as soon as I saw you. He’s been dabbling with ways of getting Dad off the sauce. Bennie’s technology’s gotten so much better. His team can actually remove certain predispositions and alter memories. The process is so gentle even Rufus’d sleep through it.”
Dad returned to the kitchen, dressed completely different, mellow, smiling, pendant missing. “How are my boys doing?”
New Steve’s eyes bounced around the room.
“Old Dad’s been recalled. For a tune-up,” I explained.
I gently took his pendant and mine, tossing them in the trash. “We’ll get through this somehow,” I said, “but, going forward, without these.”