Twinmaker - 1
You are special.
You are unique.
And you have been selected.
Follow the instructions.
Don’t tell anyone.
You are the lucky one.
You can be Improved.
The method is simple.
Improvement is certain.
You can change anything.
if you want to.
Keep this a secret.
You deserve it.
THE LUCKY JUMP was all the rage that year. Clair had tried it once but had become bored after arriving at a string of destinations that seemed anything but lucky. An empty field, a theater advertising a show in a language she didn’t understand, an underwater viewing platform full of noisy kids, and somewhere so wet and hot she didn’t even leave the booth. Clair could get better views from home, surfing media through her lenses,
It was Libby, of course, who convinced her to give it another try.
“Come on, it’ll be jazzy.”
“There’s this clique—they call themselves crashlanders. Ever heard of them?”
Clair shook her head. Libby was into that kind of thing, not her.
“They’re the coolest of the cool,” Libby said. “You wouldn’t believe how popular they are. Hardly anyone can join them, but we’re going to.”
“Just like that?”
“Trust me, Clair. Have I led you astray before?”
“Plenty of times.”
“Come on! What about when we auditioned for the circus even though we couldn’t even juggle? Or visited that hacked satellite and Ronnie threw up?”
“Yes, but then we got stuck at the South Pole—”
“You’re the one who set the booth to Chinese.”
“Only because you dared me to try!”
They laughed. That
“Where did you hear about the crashlanders?” Clair asked.
“Through Zep. He’s not one of them, but he’d like to be.”
Clair just nodded. Lately she clammed up when Zeppelin Barker, Libby’s boyfriend, entered the conversation.
“Come on, Clair. Say yes. You always do in the end.”
That was true, although she couldn’t imagine it ever being jazzy to d-mat from place to place. There was no point resisting one of Libby’s whims when she had her mind set on it.
“Great! I’ll come to your place after class. Be ready.”
Clair lived in Windham, Maine, with her mother and stepfather. She and her best friend went to high school on the other side of the continent, near Sacramento Bay, California. Libby lived somewhere in Sweden—Clair always forgot the name, but that didn’t matter. She just told the booth to take her to Libby’s, and so it did.
Clair dialed a familiar outfit from the fabber’s memory: navy plaid skirt and tank top, with black boots, bicycle shorts, and belt, and a navy headband in the vain hope of keeping her curly hair in line. She’d given up on ever having Libby’s perfectly straight blond locks. Where she was dark, Libby was light; combine the two of them, she’d often thought, and you’d get someone of precisely average coloring.
Libby was running late. While she waited, Clair searched the Air for anything regarding the crashlanders. Apart from an old book with the same name, there were several peacekeeper reports concerning the new clique and its members. Founded by a woman called Alexandra Nantakarn, the clique held “crashlander balls” at different points around the world every night: in old missile silos, abandoned hospitals, and other ruins, often illegally. Exclusive parties in exotic locales sounded like the kind of thing Libby would be into, but there was no information on how the balls were organized or who was allowed to attend.
Before Clair could perform a more detailed search, Libby arrived, looking fashionable in white tights, silver A-line dress, bright-red leather retro Doc Martens with yellow laces, and a skull-hugging yarmulke that matched the boots but left her hair free to do what it did best. Her makeup was a wild contrast between white foundation and primary-colored lipstick and eyeliner designed to pull attention away from the brown birthmark that, despite numerous skin treatments, stretched from her left ear to her chin. Clair had given up trying to convince Libby that the mark was anything other than a minor imperfection—unlike, say, Clair’s nose, which she had inherited from her birth father and hated with a blinding white-hot passion.
“Come on.” Libby dragged Clair out of the apartment and up the hall. “It’s starting.”
“What’s the huge hurry?” asked Clair, messaging her stepfather to apologize for not saying good-bye in person. “We’ll be there in a sec.”
“No, we won’t, because I don’t know the way,” Libby said, adding with an enigmatic grin: “But it’s vitally important we get there first.”
“You’ll see.” Libby pulled a makeup applicator from her pocket and touched up the pancake over her birthmark. The booth’s mirrored interior reflected and re-reflected thousands of Libbies and Clairs in all directions.
Libby said to the booth, “I want to get lucky.”
Somewhere, a machine shuffled every possible public d-mat address and selected one by chance. Instead of taking them to a destination they specified, like home or school, the booth would take them to a random point anywhere on the Earth. People used Lucky Jumps to sightsee or while away an empty afternoon. Clair had never heard of anyone using them to actually get anywhere in particular.
Bright light flared from the booth’s eight corners, and the air thinned around them. Clair opened her mouth from years of habit. Her sinuses strained.
She stuck a finger in her right ear, wiggled it—
The lights returned to normal and the door opened.