The Copycat (Part 2 of 2)

[Note: This is part 2 of 2. Read part 1.]

“Your Flavor,” Lima’s newest campaign, was an overnight hit.  Sales, reported Christy, were up to unprecedented levels for late April.   

Summer came.  That June, Damian and Karen were stars at Cannes, fielding interviews with Creativity magazine (title: “So What is a Demiwillow, Anyway?”) and were quoted in the Comment section of The New Yorker.   They were on the cover of Advertising Age.  The pair stood with their arms crossed, back-to-back in a defiant pose, like buddies in a prison-yard fight, above the superimposed title “The Comeback Kids.” At that point, Praxis had to capitulate and name them both Executive Creative Directors.  Ana was given a nominal raise and the title of Management Supervisor.  

Everyone wanted to know what was next.

 

Ana spent more weekends with the family.  In July, her mother rebelled against the taking of her car keys by wandering to a Jaguar dealership in her pajamas.  Ana picked her up.  

“I don’t see the problem,” said her mother.  “I have a million dollars.  I can buy you and Luis both a Jaguar of your own.  Maybe then he will come and visit.”

Her elder brother, Luis, had worked for the World Health Organization and had died in a plane crash in Liberia in 2006.  He would not be coming to visit.

“Luis has a car of his own, Mom.”  

There was a pause.  It wasn’t always clear what her mother knew.

“You don’t believe me,” she said.  “I’m going back.  They’ll sell me the damn car.”

She opened the door of the Volvo and stepped out.  The seatbelt she had forgotten to unclasp prevented her from falling from the moving car.  The car door wobbled in the night air.  Ana shouted and pulled over on the shoulder.

“Mom! Couldn’t you see the car was moving?”

“I knew the car was moving.”

“So, help me out,” said Ana.  She turned on the hazard lights and walked around to the passenger side, firmly closing the door.  Inside, her mother scowled out the window.  Ana walked back around and activated the child lock control, but it only locked the rear seats.  Her mother was going to have to ride in the back from now on, she realized, but it was more than that.  She would need to be fully supervised.  This meant live-in support. She might be able to afford that, if they got the agency bonus this year.  Might.

She leaned her head against the roof of the car and quietly wept.

***

At Praxis, Christy had Ana and the Demiwillow in her office.  She poured them all a bourbon.  Damian was pacing, looking out the window, over the city.   Karen sat, knees tucked on the couch, playing with her hair.  Ana sat on the opposite side of Christy’s desk.  She appreciated the bourbon, and took it as a sign that she was finally at the grown-ups’ table.

“We’ve done well for them,” said Christy.  “But we need something new.”

“Sure, we saw the latest brief,” said Damian.  “No biggie.”

“I think we’re going to need to swing a little harder this time,” said Christy.  “I want you guys to head back to Boston.  Speak with, you know, the oracle up there.”

Ana felt a flash of discomfort.

“Come on, Christy,” said Damian.  “This is what we do, here.  We don’t need to talk to–” he caught himself, walked to shut her office door.  When it was closed, he turned and continued at a whisper– “a fucking cat to get ideas.  We’re creatives, remember?”

“We did go to college for this,” said Karen.  “Why not just do new executions of Your Flavor?”

“Lima loves us,” said Damian.  “Hell, the whole industry loves us.

“We have sales targets.  If we have any shot of getting our bonus, we have to close the year with a year-over-year sales increase of 10%.  Ordinarily that would be feasible, even likely, with home-grown creative, but we are digging ourselves out of a massive hole here, guys.  And you know who buys Lima soda in the winter? Nobody.”

“Well then, we’ll just have to come up with something really good,” said Damian, grinning.

“Our scorecard, which includes bonuses, is tied to performance, not publicity.  People need to be buying soda.  Another TV ad can get us there, but smart money says it won’t, so it has to be more than just good.  It has to be magic.

“So: we have a large deficit right now and what we need is a grand slam, but I’m hearing my ECD say he wants to risk canceling Christmas for 65 people.  Have I got that right?”  She lowered her volume.  “You’ve got a guarantee waiting for you out there.  Why don’t you just go get it?”

Damian threw up his hands.  

“Christy,” Karen said quietly.  “Let us do what we do.”  

“We can’t risk it.”  Her eyes scanned back to Ana.  “Would you all just handle this please?”

“I don’t need that fucking cat!”  Shouted Damian.

“I know you could do it if it were five, seven percent. But this, Damian? This is the stuff of legend.  ‘Write your own ticket’ stuff.  So you’re going to go up there, you’re gonna listen to the stupid thing and you’re gonna fetch our bonuses.  Please.”

“Christy–”

“No, Damian.  This gravy train’s next stop is in Boston.  Please, let us all know if you want to get off.”

 

As Ana was walking her bike out, she saw the light in Christy’s office was still on.  Karen entered, closing the door gingerly behind her.  As Ana shuffled her bike loose from the pile, she realized it was still entangled with another bike.  It was Damian’s bike. He was also there, trying to fetch his bike loose.  But he wasn’t looking at the bikes.  He was looking at Christy’s office door.

“Better be careful,” he said to Ana. “The rats are leaving the ship.”

She went home and packed for Boston.

 

Day three at F2.  Ana had slept terribly, with fitful, anxiety-ridden dreams: the election, the next campaign, wars that were happening, or about to happen. She dreamt that she was a child, and her mother had come to pick her up at elementary school, but on the drive home realized they were driving on and on, but getting nowhere, the same hills and forests passing in the dark.  She knew the dementia was the reason, that her mother had forgotten the way home, and searched for a delicate way to suggest the proper directions, though she was a child and didn’t know. In the backseat, a man she didn’t recognize and a young girl– Damian’s daughter, she thought, sat in the backseat.  The Copycat was draped across the girl’s lap.  Ana knew, the way one did in dreams, that they didn’t know the way either.  Her mother turned to look down at her from the driver’s seat.  “Don’t worry,” she said, and Ana realized that she had no eyes in her sockets. The darkness of the night sky and stars turned in her skull.  “I know the way.  But first, we have to pick up your brother.”  

She spent the rest of the night writing email.

 

Hours passed unsuccessfully in the booth.  By now they were openly napping during each other’s operating sessions.  No one looked rested.  Karen went to visit the vending machine, and when she returned she crinkled her nose.  

“Ew,” she said.  “This room smells like us.”

During Damian’s second shift, he began to talk to the cat about the Your Flavor campaign, and the cat listened, interested.  Karen leaned in to watch, crunching her Fritos.  She put a hand on Damian’s shoulder.  At the moment of contact, the cat spoke.

“Traitor,” uttered the cat.   Karen recoiled.  The cat leaped up to the landing of its cat hotel, then to the top platform.  At the heights it called back, “Snitch.”

“What the fuck, Damian?” Said Karen.

Damian powered through.  “Oh, like you weren’t reporting back to Christy on all this?”

Karen flushed.  “Unlike you, I’m not ready to throw all this away.  We’ve got people relying on us.  You’re not the only one on the hook.  Everyone is looking at us and asking, what next?  Well, Damian?  What next?”

“What happened to you, Karen?  You get one award and all that shit that they taught us at art school is out the window?  Don’t you see what’s happening here?” He gestured at the cat on the other side of the window.   “Animal slave labor? They’re automating us!  We’re creatives for christ’s sake!  We’re not supposed to get automated. You know who gets automated?”

“Poors,” offered the cat.

Damian waved away the window.  “Thank you.  No, what I was going to say was,” he said, slowing himself to a stop. He sighed.  “The point is, we can’t keep writing ourselves out like this.  We’re degrading the profession.”

“Damian, I need this job.  I’ve got a… goddamn mortgage,” said Karen.

“Pregnant,” said the cat, insistently.
Karen looked over at it and closed her eyes as if manifesting all of her patience.

“Well,” said Damian.  “Congratulations.”

Karen shook her head.  She looked like she were about to cry.  “Please don’t congratulate me,” she said in a very small voice.

Ana realized that the crucial function of her job had arrived.  She needed to Hold the Family Together.  This was a big one, a schism beyond the healing power of bagel breakfasts.  They were under a ton of pressure, insecure, scared.  It was 4:23PM.  She made the call.

“Guys, let’s go for another seven minutes.  Then we can get out of this stinky room, and I’ll buy you both dinner and drinks and we can talk about this–” she nudged her chin at the observation camera in the corner– “off the record.”

 

They found a brewery by the water’s edge, and started in hard.  It was too cool to sit outside, so they sat by a window overlooking the water, a series of pleasure boats bobbing below.  Ana hadn’t been thrilled about the rounds of shots, but a good lead knew when to hold the reins lightly, she thought.

Damian drank like a thirsty athlete.  His s’s were just starting to grow overlong, and his volume seemed uncontained, but he wasn’t sloppy yet.  Karen tittered.  Ana found them to still be manageable, but it was getting choppy.

“Does no one else find this weird?  Pulling ideas out of the ether like that?  Who wants to go rooting in all that shit?  And like doctor Bunsen Honeydew over there said, it’s bi-directional.  I can feel all this… crap rolling around in there.  The world, banging to get in.”  He glanced around for affirmation.  His eyes were baggy, his skin pale and unshaven.  Ana had to admit, he looked like he was slipping.  They all did.  “Are you telling me I’m the only one?”

“No,” said Karen.  “I feel it too.”

“That’s why they make us take the breaks.  It’s not just to rest the cat.  It’s to rest us.  Keep us from absorbing too much.  Don’t you think?”

“It’s messed with my sleeping,” said Karen.  “I feel like I’m remembering things that didn’t even happen to me.”

“Exactly!  Weird shit.”

“I don’t see what difference it makes,” said Ana.  “We just need to get something to take home.  Then we’re done. We’re not moving in here.”

“It spoke to me,” said Karen.

Ana and Damian both looked at her.

“You both were asleep.  It talked to me.”

“What did it say?”

“It forgave me.”

“For what?”

“I’d rather not say.  But it did, and I believe it.”

“See?” Said Damian.  “This is the kind of crazy shit I’m talking about.  It keeps telling me it loves me, wants to be with me, sounding like my damn kid.  And, while part of me likes it, the rest is, well, creeped out.  Plus, I think it’s trying to tell us something.”

“Sure, it’s trying to tell us what it thinks we want to hear,” said Ana.  “I mean, isn’t that what it does?”  

For the first time, Damian became aware of his volume.  “You know what I think?”  He looked around the bar, savoring the attention, and when he was convinced that they did not in fact know what he thought, took a final drink of his beer before re-establishing eye contact.  “I think it wants us to break it out of there,” he said, his lips wet.

Ana took a matching sip of her Chardonnay, self-consciously mirroring him.  She didn’t want to lose him, or worse, have them ice her out, not now.  

“What makes you say that?”

“Because that’s what it said,” he hissed.  “Karen, tell me you know what I’m talking about.”

Karen nodded, her eyes were wide, scanning between them.  “It told me a lot of things.  ‘Set me free.’  I’ve definitely seen enough to think that it’s real, a thinking thing,” she said, nodding gravely.

“Did you ever notice it’s mouth doesn’t match what it’s saying?” Said Damian.

“I asked Sherman about that,” said Karen.  “He said we usually hear it in someone else’s voice.  Have you noticed?  Who do you hear?”

“My daughter,” said Damian.

“My mother,” added Ana.

“Uh huh,” said Karen.  “That means the cat’s got them.  He’s connected, and we gave him the map.  Just like in the video.  From person to person, consciousness to consciousness.  Meanwhile, the cat suffers in a cage.  What does he think about in there, I wonder, with our thoughts?”

“Come on, Karen,” said Ana.  “It’s the world’s most lavishly cared for zoo animal.  It’s hardly suffering.”

“You think it’s suffering now?” pushed Damian.

“I don’t think that room is the best place for it,” said Karen.  “It should go outside.”

Ana felt something fester in the beer-stained wood between them.  A bad idea.  She didn’t know how to stop it.

“We can get it out,” said Damian.

“Damian,” Ana said.  “We’ll go to jail.  Just after we lose our jobs.  I need this job, and so do you.  So does Karen.”

“It can talk,” continued Karen. “If it’s being held against its will, you can just ask it.”

“So can a parrot,” said Ana.  “You’re projecting, and it’s picking that up. If you ask it, whatever it tells you is fifty-fifty.  Or it tells you an ad, or a recipe, or something irrelevant.”

Damian ignored her, responding to Ana’s previous point.  “No, we won’t go to jail.  We’re whistleblowers.”

This was indeed going left, thought Ana, but she didn’t quite know what to do.  Then it occurred to her– best to just get this on record.  “I’ll send Christy a text,” she thought.  

She excused herself to go to the bathroom.  She was lightheaded.  The bar music was too loud.  They were playing one of those Irish rock bands, the Pogues or the Dropkick Murphys.  Boston needs to try a little harder sometimes, she thought.

In the stall she quickly texted “Damian is wasted and becoming a little belligerent.  Has a real anxiety about F2 situation.  What should I do?”

Ana could see Christy was revising several versions of the message.  Finally:  “Get him back to hotel. He’s on antideps, shouldt drink. CONFIDENTIAL.”

“Shit,” she thought.  Another text came back.

“TIME-SENSITIVE.”

“Shit.”

“In the program,several weeks sober. CONFIDENTIAL x2.”

Karen Willow was waiting for her back at the table.  Damian was gone.

“Where did he go?”

Karen grimaced.  “I’m… not sure.”

“Karen,” said Ana, “Where is Damian.”

“He lost custody, Ana.  He’s been really on edge, and with that thing talking to him in his daughter’s voice–”

“Are you saying he went to F2?”

“No, I don’t know–”

They left.

 

Returning to F2, they found him at the third floor cafe bar, which closed late.  He and another man were chatting at the bar.   Ana recognized the other man, but couldn’t place him for the first few beats, until she realized she’d seen him in black and white on the back of his books.  He was a popular novelist of some kind.  He also had bags under his eyes, and was skinnier than she remembered.

Damian introduced Ana to the novelist.  Karen had met him on a previous day, and she excused herself to go downstairs and make a call.

“Talk amongst yourselves,” said Damian.  “I’m gonna find the bathroom.”

“We worked on a shoot together,” said the novelist.  “A lifetime ago.  Can you believe it?”

“Is that what you’re here for?  Are you getting time with the Copycat?”

The novelist looked confused. “No, I’m using the Script Panda,” he said, dropping his voice. “Just for revisions,” he added hastily.

“Well, I guess we’re all on NDA together, then.”

“We are.  This must be what a lounge in a plastic surgery clinic is like.”

“Or Celebrity Rehab.”

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” he said, looking away.

They chatted easily a few more minutes, the way you can when your biggest secrets are already on the table.  Each held up their end while they waited for Damian to return.  Perhaps it was a sense of boldness, or anxiety, when Ana asked, a few minutes in, “So, do you, you know, come here often?”

He smiled kindly.  “You’re asking me if my they are really my ideas, of something pulled from the fog at F2?”

“No, I–”

“It’s all right.  It’s all right.  This is my third time here. My first three bestsellers, they were all, you know, organic.  Then you start to slide.  In the beginning, you can convince yourself, you know?  That it’s all you.  And it’s great.  I mean, it’s easy to believe, while you’re winning.”

He stopped talking, but when she said nothing, he went on.

“Eventually you aren’t selling the way you need to.  And you have… people.  People that have to be paid.  Sometimes you just need the win,” he said.  “Sometimes you just need to pay the bills.”

“I know what you mean,” she said. “But I confess, part of me is wondering if the book of yours that I own was written, you know, here.”

“Hmm. Which one was it?”

“I forget the name.  With the clairvoyant detective? And killer?”

“That was all me.”

“Oh. It was good.”

“Thanks,” said the novelist.  “Hey, let me give you some advice.  Hitting it big. All this… magic.  It all goes away, fast.  We all get just a few at-bats in this.  When your chance comes, if you have a way to win it, win it.  You might not get another chance.”

“You’re telling me to use F2 as long as I can?”

He laughed.  “The opposite!  You’re still young, you have ideas.  You still have time to end up here, but you don’t need to start here. You have the rest of your life to capitulate.  When you find your idea, protect it.  You have to own it.”

“Karen and Damian think they’re going to be automated.”

“Maybe,” he said. “I kind of wished I had learned HTML.”

“I would have thought those clairvoyant detectives paid you well enough.”

He shrugged. “You never know when it’s going to end. What do I do then?”

Karen came back.  “Where’s Damian?”

“In the bathroom,” said Ana.

“He may have started in the bathroom,” said the novelist.  “But I’m not sure he’s going to stay there.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your friend is relapsing.  I gave him something for the pain.  He was concerned he wouldn’t be able to stay awake long enough to finish whatever it is you guys are working on.”

“You gave him drugs?” said Ana, sounding naive, even to herself.

“Just few bumps. to stave off something worse. Hey. He’s an addict, and he’s in pain.”

“We need to get him,” said Karen.  “See if we can get him back to the hotel.  Security will know where he is, or if he left.”

“Good luck,” called the novelist. “And one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“If you want money, write something they can make toys out of. Toys are good.”

“Thanks,” she said.

“That’s what I should have done,” he said.

“OK,” she said.

 

At reception, Ana asked for Sherman, though she expected he’d have gone home.  “He’s in Elections,” said the guard, directing her down another hall.

The door to a control room was open.  Sherman’s voice.  “Our efforts should at this point be concentrated in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.  With the proper messaging, especially over the coming weekend, we can depress a substantial amount of opposition turnout.  A lot depends on the timing of your buys–”

She knocked on the door, peeking around the corner.  Inside, Sherman was speaking with two sloppy-looking men in expensive suits.  A vast tank behind them showed a live prairie dog habitat with a cross-section of their subterranean network.  A series of digitized graphs ran along the circumference of the tank. Sherman smiled politely and excused himself to step outside, closing the door behind him. The door read “Group Decision Strategies.”

“Hey.  I’m surprised to see you here this late.  Everything OK?”

She told him that Damian was concerned that the animals were asking to be set free, leaning heavily on the fact that Damian may have been having a paranoid reaction to his medication and was undergoing very trying personal problems.  

Sherman’s lips tightened.  “No, that’s not it,” he said.

“No?” She wondered if he knew about the drugs, somehow.

“Sympathetic overload,” he said.  “It’s what can happen if you operate too long.  It’s why we have those time limits,” he said. “Walk with me.”

Ana and Karen followed at a jog.  “But we followed the time limits,” said Ana.

“I’ve been working on a theory that certain states– including those caused by certain types of medication and drugs–  can lower your psychic defenses,” said Sherman.  “I haven’t been able to prove it, though.  Testing it was difficult.”

“Is Damian at any kind of health risk?”

Sherman didn’t say anything, but continued briskly.

When they arrived at the Copycat’s chamber, Damian was waiting, operating the booth.  A fire extinguisher port dangled open, the tank removed and set on the floor at his right hand.  He stood from the chair to face the three of them, and leaned over to speak into the microphone.  He had a smug expression on his face.

“Mr. Sherman,” he said.  It’s come to my attention that this animal is sentient and capable of speech.  I think what we have here is not a marketing technology, but a slave.”

“Please don’t be ridiculous, Mr. Harris.  I have to remind you that you are under signed contract–”

Damian put up his shushing fingers.

“Copycat,” he said.  “Do you want to come out?”

It hopped down from upper platform to lower.  At ground level it breathed “Set me free,” crisply, impatiently.

“You can’t take that seriously,” said Sherman.  “It’s just making sentences.”

“I don’t think you take it seriously enough,” said Damian.  He tapped the glass with the tank.  The noise was the sharp tic of plate glass, not the reverberation of plexiglass.  

“Don’t do that!” shouted Sherman, hands out like a hostage negotiator.  Ana realized the only reason he hadn’t yet called security was the delicate nature of the moment.  

“You are lying,” Damian said.  “Just like you lied to everyone about me.  You can’t have her with you all the time. I get some time, too, you know.”

“Him,” said Karen Willow.  “The Copycat is a him.”

“Right,” said Damian, looking momentarily thrown. “That’s what I meant. Thanks Karen.”

“Sure,” she said.

“You know I’m sorry about what I said before, right?”

“I know, Damian. Can we go back to the hotel and discuss it?”

“Yeah, sure, right after this.  I’m just worried if I don’t, deal with this, you know, now, we’ll all be stuck with a bad deal.  These things can ruin you.  And they can’t have sole cust– anyway, they can’t keep it here.”

Karen looked trapped.

“Look, Damian,” said Sherman.  You’re suffering from a side-effect.  It’s jamming you with too many, well, feelings.  Now, I know you’ve got a lot going on.  Personally, and at the agency.  Let’s agree on this: this work has become unsafe for you. The cat, the Copycat, is bred for that room.  It likes that room.  It does not want to come out. It’s just saying what it thinks you want to hear.  What your brain has been quietly saying, all along.”

“Did you ever ask it?  Don’t lie.  It hates lies, I’ve noticed.”

Sherman didn’t say anything.

“Ana,” said Damian.  “It spoke to you.  You wanted to tell us before, but you didn’t.  What did it say?”

Ana didn’t know why she felt the compulsion to answer honestly, but felt like if she didn’t, the thought would ricochet in her brain and become harder to control.  

“It said, ‘set me free.’”

“Welp,” said Damian, “not a lot of wiggle room, there.”  He hammered the plate glass with a blow from the fire extinguisher.  

The glass detonated. Huge shards fell and shattered on the floor, resounding like miniature church bells. The control room flushed with warm, feline-scented air from the habitat.  A security alarm bleated and the red emergency light above the control room door began to blink in cadence.

The cat peered over the edge into the control room, and it started to pace, its fiery mohawk patrolling just below the windowpane.  It leaped into the control chair, and allowed itself to be pet by Damian, who scooped it into his arms with a grunt.  It seemed a little smaller in person, but it was still enormous for a cat, and Damian could barely manage it.

“Oh God, don’t touch it.” Sherman looked stricken, but was suddenly reminded of something.  “Look, security is on their way,” he said, backing out of the control room. “I have to see my other clients out of the facility.  They must think something terrible has happened.” He was gone, leaving them alone with the Copycat.  

Karen Willow looked at Ana, making an inclusive gesture at the glass, the alarms, the cat in Damian’s arms.  

“Hasn’t it, though?”

The cat was purring loudly.  “A refreshment that invigorates,” it barked.  “For a generation forged by change!”

“Yes!”  Said Damian.  He took a theatrical moment to glare hard at them as if to say, “See?” Then slung it over his shoulders, fireman style, and ran out.  Someone in the hallway could be heard shouting ‘stop,’ but Damian course-corrected, turning to run the other way.  Seeing this, Karen Willow pulled the fire alarm, knowing, as Ana did, that it unlocked the fire doors.

Ana put her head in her hands.

“What,” said Karen.  “He’s a nut, but I don’t want him to get shot.”

 

Over the next hour, Damian made it as far as the channel.  The police had arrived.  After brief a chase, he was finally cornered on a small causeway that led to a brewery by the channel.  No one was shooting, not least because he was unarmed and slow, but because Sherman, who had arrived on-scene by taxi, was heard saying to officers that Damian Harris was “carrying a million-dollar piece of equipment.”    

“It looks like some kind of space bobcat,” said the policeman with the megaphone, whose Boston accent modified it to ‘boabcaat’.  

“It’s been babbling on about soda, right up until you all got here.”  He returned to his megaphone.  “PUT DOWN THE BOBCAT AND PUT UP YOUR HANDS.”  

On the bridge, Damian looked back at the police, security, Sherman,  Karen and Ana on one side.  On the other, the brewery crowd were shouting loudly from the patio.  Below him was the canal.  The crowd had intuited, as crowds do, that the situation was coming to a head.

“Jump, you pussy!” someone suggested.

“Full custody!” Growled the Copycat.

“PUT DOWN THE BOBCAT,” said the police.

Damian complied, gently putting down the Copycat. He raised his hands.  Then something unexpected happened. The Copycat leapt to alight on the railing.

“Uh oh,” said the policeman.

“Now’s your chance, Copycat,” called Damian.  “Swim! Swim free!”

  

The cat jumped, but had misjudged the distance.  It’s frantic arms went rigid in all directions, as a cat does with no clear point of purchase. The crowd gave a terrible, bending moan.  A woman screamed.  

It plunged into the gelid water below. The water yielded a few bubbles a and returned to its rhythm.

“You jackass!” Yelled someone from the brewery.

“Shoot him,” called someone else.

“Oh,” said Damian, the spell broken. Karen and Ana hugged each other and began to cry with relief that Damian hadn’t been shot, but also with sadness, for the strange Mongol prince of marketing was surely dead.  Damian looked down at his hands, the flickering blue and red police lights reflecting against the white stripes of his Adidas jacket. Crowds gathered on either side of the bridge, regarding him as if he had just crashed to Earth.  

“Oh,” he said.  “Oh, shit.”

Two weeks later, Ana received a single word text from Karen Willow (“OMG”)with a link to a gossip website.  As it turned out the Copycat was, as Sherman had mentioned, part dolphin.  It had been pulled from the bay onto the deck of a Boston fishing boat, soaked, surly-looking and chatty as ever. In a video that went viral almost instantly, the near-drowned cat was drawn from the deep only to launch into a croaking and profanity-laden tirade against Fanta soda to the delight and amazement of a bachelor party of amateur fishermen. They had posted it online immediately, and a few days later were quietly rewarded by F2 in exchange for the animal.  

Fanta offered no comment.  

 

The Praxis team, in the end, relied on their own creativity.  “Invigoration,” a series of ads based on “Your Flavor” and (mostly) conceived by Damian Harris and Karen Willow, did a sales bump of 10.3%– just past breakeven, meaning all was forgiven with Lima, and while there were no bonuses, Christmas did come, and Lima signed on for another year.  

Damian’s legal team had easily made the case that he had been exposed to untested technology and was the victim in this case.  F2 settled handsomely with all of the team deemed to have been “exposed” to the technology, providing Joanna more than enough to cover the costs of her mother’s illness and assisted living.

According to Christy, F2 had been in the middle of an acquisition by a Cambridge-based quant services company and were happy to be done with the advertising business.  

“They have some kind of big-data election strategy service now,” said Christy.  “Even if this hadn’t happened, I’m not sure they’d take my calls anymore.”

Ana took another job at a multinational agency in the city. She hired a part time live-in home nurse, a Jamaican woman named Regina, who her mother had met at the previous hospital. When her mother moved into a new adult living apartment in the Berkshires, she had begrudgingly accepted the arrangement, but insisted that Regina continue to work for the family, and Regina had agreed.  

When her mother finally said it, Ana froze.

“What did she say?” she asked Regina.

“Oh, that.  She used to talk like that, back at the other hospital.” She laughed gently.

Ana heard Benicio Del Toro’s voice.

“It begins with scanning the consciousness of the operator, then, identifying the reflected consciousness of the operator’s family, friends and colleagues.”

Regina continued.  “–When she wasn’t getting her medication.  She’d get bored, than paranoid.”

Sherman’s voice now: “Imagine two tracks in your mind.”

Regina: “She thought everyone was conspiring to lock her up!”

Sherman: “It wants to play this back to you to please you, to bond.  It’s just saying what it thinks you want to hear.  What your brain has been quietly saying, all along.”

“I’m half bored to death,” said her mother, rocking in the chair. She spoke just as she always had, but in the voice Ana remembered, would always remember, coming to her from behind the glass.   

Her mother frowned, surveying the sod of the golf course that was her new front yard.  “I just wish somebody would come and set me free.”


Also published on Medium.