Jay’s voice was swallowed quickly in the vast dark.
“So what is it you are offering, exactly?”
The creature before him answered, a voice coming from somewhere deep within its roiling mass.
“Time. It is nothing to us adepts, and… everything to you it seems. We will give you our time. Time that does not run out, and replace you in the world you seek to flee, so that you may live your life as you see fit.”
“So then, who would I be?”
“Whoever you want. You are about to go to jail for life, yes?”
Jay briefly flashed back to the night that changed his life on Earth forever. The blood, those empty eyes. The limp figure in his grasp. How fast the rage, how eternal its consequences. The child. His child, gone forever.
“I am about to pay for what I did, and perhaps I should. I have sinned. What right do I have to-”
“Right and wrong do not concern us. Only what you can stand. Can you stand to pay for your sins? If so, reject our offer and you will return to your life. To your awaiting sentence. Accept, and you need never wake to your fate. Some other creature, wearing your face, will.”
The creature’s exact nature eluded Jay in the gloom, just as the exact dimensions of the room that held him escaped his comprehension in the black. Its face… what should have been its face was instead a suggestion of a thousand different faces, in just as many skin tones, every time he thought he glimpsed its exact nose or mouth, or could see the color of its eyes through the shadows, he blinked, and it changed. Within it lay the endless possibilities. So beguiling was this being of limitless potential that its face, its shrinking and growing hands, its constantly morphing features, distracted him from the portent in its words.
This has to be a dream. He thought. How can this be real? How can what this thing offers be real? Any minute I will wake up, and I will have to face what I’ve done.
“And if I agree, what then?”
“We begin immediately.” Out of the blackness, another creature of a thousand faces and of every race and gender approached, but as it grew nearer, it began to coalesce. As it stood before Jay, it was like Jay looked into a mirror, every feature, down to the freckles on his tan cheeks, the little scar above his eye, was the same. Even the haunted look in his pupils was the same, that of a man who had committed a sin he could not take back.
As if reading his thoughts, the Jay-copy spoke. “We would not be a convincing copy if we just copied the physical. We will have your memories, your regrets.”
A single tear streaked the doppelgänger’s cheek. “We will bear your impossible to live with sin. We will suffer for your crime.”
Then Jay seized on the one question that mattered. “This can’t be free. You aren’t just doing this out of the goodness of your… do you even have hearts? What do you want from me?”
The first creature quivered, rippling like a standing pool of mercury. “In your… after life. We will call on you to serve us. As we have served you.”
Jay knew he had no choice to accept. He could not go to prison. Not for life. He would wither and die in there, and there was so much life left in him. So much left for him to accomplish. What was the after-life? A myth, a potentiality. Behind him lay the certainty of losing everything. He dare not walk back down that road.
“So how do we beg-”
Jay-2 interrupted him. “We sense your acquiescence. Your agreement is bond, and all that we require. We start now.”
Not walking, not flying, the Jay-copy glided toward him. Before Jay could move, or protest, it gripped his arms. Its eyes, dead now, bereft of all his emotion had displayed before, bored into his own.
“What are you doing?” He shouted. “You said you would come in my afterlife. I don’t know if I-”
“It is too late for regret.” The creature whispered. “Our becoming has already began. Relax, this will go easier if you relax.”
“Afterlife? Your life is over. It is mine now. Where do you think you are? Hush now, and give me… give to me everything.”
And then the creature walked into him, and for a moment they were the same flesh.
In that moment, Jay felt everything stripped away. Every memory, every vestige, fading into the black. His childhood chased by his emotion chased by his sins and accomplishments into oblivion. Jay receded, and as he receded, he saw the thing in front of him become more and more himself. The set of its jaw, that of a defeated man. The dazed, haunted look in its eyes. The name of his child ‘Rachelle’ escaped its lips, and as he spoke it, the one who was Jay wondered. Why do I know that name? What did it mean to me?
He felt his skin slough away. His eyes crumbled to dust in the dark.
Who am I now?
After a moment, an eternal moment. The man who is now-Jay, and the one who was Jay, stepped apart. And now-Jay turned to the other creature and nodded. “We are ready.”
“Good,” It replied. “You may return to life.”
The one who was Jay watched the man, the despairing, condemned man, disappear dispassionately. The suffering of men meant little to a creature who is eternal. Such as itself.
It looked at its hands. One moment, each finger bore a long pink nail, the next they were nibbled by nervousness to nubs. The next they were dark and wrinkled, the next they were a baby’s hands. It knew its face shifted similarly. And in it, it felt the ability to become whatever it saw. The room that was black was filled with light, an ebullient brightness that came from within. And where there were once shadows, it saw row after row of its brothers/sisters. Waiting for it.
“I am here,” It said. “I am ready”
And it slid to join them and waited.
Waited for a chance at becoming again.