And Other Stories



"Nasrin, I've gotta be honest. I'm worried." Arina sighed. She wished she wasn't alone, sitting in the miniscule little waiting area. But at least she didn't have to turn her phone off yet.

"Ari, don't be. It'll be fine, I promise." Her big sister's voice was always reassuring, but even it couldn't cut through all the worry. "You know aunt Darya and uncle Jawad, they're good people. And Parisa—"

"That's not it. I'm not worried about living with them." If Arina was being honest, she was. Packing up and moving was frightening, living apart from her big sister was frightening, and the other Khans always seemed somehow cold. Even cousin Pari was, these last couple years. But she knew it would work out. They were family, and they had money, and they lived somewhere that still had good jobs. She could shake that off. "I'm worried about the machine that's going to disintegrate me."

Then Nasrin laughed, and Arina moped in exasperation to the nearest wall. "Just don't think of it that way! It's perfectly safe, and you won't feel a thing. Trust me, it's the better way to travel."

"It's the more expensive way to travel." That wasn't really what was on her mind, but it was true. Maybe it would have been smarter to bite the bullet and save.

"Barely, with how many people are trying to get out of here these days. And this way it doesn't leave you stuck in a cramped transport for a week and paying for meals. Look, Ari, I'll be fine, promise. It won't be that long before I can get a ticket, too. We'll be one big happy family, yeah?"

"Yeah." Arina took a deep breath, but the tightness in her stomach didn't go away. She started kicking her feet back and forth. "But really. Nasrin, I'm scared of the teleporter. I mean, I've heard about... accidents, you know?"

"Ari, I'm telling you, it's safe. All that stuff's made up. You aren't going to, I dunno, lose an arm or get a fly's head or whatever scaremongering garbage you've heard."

"But those ideas had to come from somewhere, didn't they?" How could someone just make something like that up?

"Yeah, I guess. Probably from the mouth of somebody running a transport business, let's be honest. If that stuff was real, there'd be more outcry, not just rumors."

That was a good point. It didn't make her feel better, but she couldn't argue against it, other than insist it was all swept under the rug. But that was crazy; that would take violating the NAP. Arina sighed. "Yeah. I guess you're right. Just..."

"Ari, it's okay. It's okay to be nervous about this! It just won't do you any good. Once it starts, it'll only take a moment, and then it'll all be over with. So, just try to keep your mind off it until then, yeah? I'm here, we can talk about something else."

"Thank you, Nasrin. That's a good idea. Uhh..." Arina tried to think of something else to talk about, but all her mind wanted to offer up was thoughts of coming out of the teleporter wrong. The harder she tried to put that out of her mind, the more it was the only thing she could think of.

"It'll be cool to see Parisa in person, right? I know you two are close."

Arina was glad Nasrin came to her rescue, even if that subject was a little sore. "Yeah. It will be. I..." Arina deflated, bending forward in her seat. "Honestly, not as close lately. I dunno why, I don't think I've pushed her away. Maybe meeting in person will change that, though."

"Oh. Sorry, I really didn't know you were having an icy patch."

"It's fine! Honestly, I—" 'Honestly'. It just tripped right out of her mouth, but did she really mean it? "I'm glad you brought it up. I want to be optimistic about it. And I want to see her in person, I've been looking forward to that for years. But I'm... I'm..." Arina rubbed at her cheek with her free hand. "I'm worried about her. She's been colder, you know? Maybe I can help."

"Oh, Ari. My darling little sister, timid as a door-mouse, wanting to come to her big cousin's rescue?" Arina rolled her eyes as Nasrin laughed. She loved to call her that, even though Arina knew Nasrin had no idea what it actually was, either. "I'm proud of you."

That didn't sound like a joke. Arina didn't know what to say for a moment.

"Stuff's been hard for them, and growing up isn't easy in the first place. But you've been taking it well. Cheer her up, okay?"

"Oh. Okay, yeah. I will." Arina smiled. It was good to think she could actually help, not just worry about everything staying frosty. But... "But, wait. Aren't I just going to be more of a burden? If it's tough already..."

"Ari, honey, don't worry about that. First off, you're not a burden, you aren't going to be a burden, and if dearest Darya and Jawad try to make you feel like one we are going to have words." Nasrin's voice had gotten low and gravely serious, but then she brightened again. "But more importantly, you're family. Even if things are hard, it's better to face them together. Sharing a struggle definitely beats lonely success, I'd say."

"Yeah. But, wait, Nasrin, should I really be leaving you behind then? If—"

Nasrin started laughing, but there wasn't any humor in it. "Ah, rats, can't slip anything by you. Ari, don't worry about me. I'll be following soon, I promise. And until then, I won't be alone. Don't think I won't call your ear off, hahah."

"Okay. Yeah." Arina took a deep breath. Nasrin was putting on a front, of course. But was there any use in picking at it? "I'm not going to get out of your hair either. But, how exactly is this going to work?"

"Well, that's just something we'll—"

"Arina Khan?" The voice came from the exit of the vestibule she was in, but was louder than it had to be, like he was calling into a larger room. "Please shut off your phone and any other transmitters, then step through the door." Maybe Nasrin could hear it, because she cut herself off.

"Oh! Shit, sorry Nasrin, I have to go. I love you, talk to you again soon!" That was too fast, and she hated having interrupted Nasrin, but what could she do?

"I love you too!"

Nasrin hung up with a beep. That was that.

Arina turned off her phone as she stood up, and hurriedly shoved it in a pocket of her skirt. Then she slung her little pack back over her shoulders before hurrying over to the door. She had already double-checked she didn't have anything else radio-emitting on her person. The last thing she wanted was to scramble her own signal going through the jump. The guy who had called for her barely spared her a glance and gestured with a thumb towards another door. It was a bit heavy. Behind that was a larger room that looked disconcertingly simple, with white, sleek walls. Another person was sitting at a desk in one corner, working controls she couldn't see. And between her and the exit was a big metal tube in the center of the room. The first guy spoke up behind her, and Arina nearly jumped.

"First time?"

"Yes. Sorry, I'm a bit lost on..."

"That's okay. It's very simple. We already set everything up, you just have to get in the..." The man trailed off, and stepped forward to spin the metal tube. Then a hole appeared, and the man gestured. "There you go, now it should be a bit clearer."

Arina nodded, and tentatively stepped towards the tube. The hole wasn't that large, but she was small enough that she didn't have to duck to fit through it. She hesitated, and her feet started to tingle, but she stepped through the threshold. And then the light started to go, and Arina turned her head to see the exit disappearing, and her stomach fell. There was light in the tube, coming from a lamp up at the top, but it cast everything in yellow. Only in yellow, everything the exact same color, just brighter or darker. The blue pattern on her skirt was nearly black. It was surreal. Looking closely, she could make out the outline of the exit, now just an indent. A stationary tube inside the spinning one, that was all.

There wasn't any indication anything was happening aside from a buzzing sound, some electrical whine from overhead. It couldn't have started yet. They had to give her warning for that, right? Arina turned her head back around to face the wall, just in case her facing mattered. The tube wasn't very large on the inside. She wasn't quite cramped, but it was less spacious than she imagined. The walls were thick. Goosebumps started to raise on her arms, as she tried not to move or shift. It would be fine. She wouldn't come out the other end wrong, it would all be okay.

"Okay!" A voice from outside carried into her little chamber, despite the walls. Not the man's, so whoever was sitting at the desk. "Starting now. Just hold still, this will only be a moment."

An eerie noise started, a whirring and humming that all-but drowned out the earlier whine. Arina couldn't help but shiver, hoping desperately that it wouldn't ruin everything and trying not to move any more. She felt coiled tight as a spring when the noise reached a fever pitch and held that crescendo for seconds and then—abruptly the noise fell halfway back down, and fell off even more. Arina kept tensed, but it felt like nothing at all had happened.

"And she's off!" It sounded like the second voice again, the person at the desk. Just hearing it made her stomach lurch.

Arina gave it a couple more seconds before speaking. "Uh, hello? Is it done yet?" She felt like she was too loud, but she didn't want to be drowned out by the walls. She was still surprised she could hear them at all.

There was no response for a moment, and then color spilled back into the chamber as it was spun open. Arina turned around to see who was definitely the guy from before. She swallowed. This wasn't good. The look of surprise on his face didn't help. Surprise. Arina's stomach dropped. Did something go awry besides simply failing to work? Did she just get taken apart and reconstituted here, instead of the other end? Did she get put back together wrong? She couldn't hold back a shudder. She wanted to ask the question, but the words died in her throat.

"What?" It was the other voice again, now much less muffled. "What's going on? This says everything should have gone fine, I—"

"I am staring at our passenger, Esteban, it clearly didn't." Arina's eyes widened, and when the guy glanced back at her, so did his. As she started to tear up, he shifted his tone. "Hey, hey, it's okay. This is our cock-up, we aren't going to double-charge you or leave you stuck here. Just give us a bit to get this sorted, okay?"

Arina let out a shaky breath, and then nervously laughed. "Oh. Good. I was worried I..." She looked down at herself. Nothing was out of place, and she didn't feel any different. It was fine.

The guy motioned for her to stay put, and then hurried over to talk to—Esteban, apparently. She wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but she overheard snippets. That it was bending the rules, but it was completely unreasonable to do anything else. Whatever the system said, the transmission failed, she clearly hadn't gone anywhere. That it wouldn't be fair, she was only fifteen and trying to get out while she could, that the cost of the ticket had to have been all her savings, and she wouldn't be able to make it back before things went bad. Arina felt insulted by that, but she couldn't complain about it. If they left her here and kept the money, that would be a terrible setback. And what could she and Nasrin actually do about it, realistically? If that guy thinking of her as a pathetic little kid was what got the right thing donethings fixed, she wouldn't argue; even though she was legally an adult on the station and was hardly pathetic.

Eventually Esteban caved, apparently assured he wouldn't be the one to get in trouble if their bosses got upset about the glitch, and the other guy came back over. "Okay, everything should be in order, so we're going to give this another shot, okay? Same as before, just hold still."

Arina's stomach was tight. If it had messed up once... But she did have to get off the station, and help earn for Nasrin to follow. She nodded her head. "Okay."

The entrance shut again, and everything was cast purely in that strange yellow again. Arina tried to stay relaxed with deep breaths, but wound up tensing up again. The whirring started up, same as before, and reached the crescendo, plateaued for a second, and then—again, the noise jarringly dropped in volume, spinning down the rest of the way normally, leaving just that first little buzz. Again, nothing happened. Arina stifled the urge to groan, just trying to stay put. She gave it another few seconds, and then sighed.

"Did it screw up again?" No response came. Arina cleared her throat, and tried to speak up a bit louder. "Did it work this time?" There still wasn't a response. The hairs on the back of her neck started to stick up. "Um. Anybody? Hello! Can I get out?"

It was then that the chamber spun open, and Arina jumped in place at the suddenness. Looking in at her was someone in the company uniform, but not Esteban or the other guy. A woman, for one thing. She seemed more surprised to see Arina then she was to see her, despite presumably having run into the room to deal with...

Then Arina started to laugh. "Oh, it worked this time! Thank... Sorry, I had a bit of trouble on the other end. Arina Khan. Do you need my ticket again?"

"Um." was all the woman said in response, making that same dumbfounded face. All the relief drained out of Arina. "Oh, no. What happened to me?" She looked down at herself and didn't see what was wrong, and with dawning horror realized that meant it was her face, and started trying to pat herself and feel out what the problem was.

Finally the woman seemed to react, waving her hands. "No, no, it's not—You're fine. It's just... Oh they are going to kill me."

"What the fuck happened to me!?"

"Nothing! But... I can't explain this, just go out there, they'll..."

Arina had half a mind to demand answers again, but they clearly weren't coming. With a knot in her stomach, she slipped out of the chamber and then headed the way she pointed, towards the exit. Something horrible had happened to her, it must have, but why couldn't she just tell what the problem was? The worry was killing her, her mind running wild with awful images even though she knew tehy weren't it. The exit door was a bit heavy, but at least it pushed out, instead of having to awkwardly pull it.

There was a room like the one she had checked her ticket in, at the station, but much larger. It had multiple sets of doors leading to, presumably, other transport rooms, and several desks. And at the nearest one, someone was arguing with the person at the desk.

"What do you mean an additional charge? I already got cleared as having paid, what else is the ticket for? I'm fifteen, not a rube."

The girl complaining was hard not to notice, with her hair dyed a soft cyan. It would have caught Arina's eye even if it wasn't her favorite color. She was being loud. And when the exasperated person at the desk pointed, she turned towards Arina and made eye contact with herself.

It was unnerving. It wasn't like looking in a mirror. It was reversed, like looking at a picture of herself, but there, in the flesh. The same skirt with all the intricate patterns, the same shirt that didn't go with it at all, the two nicest pieces of clothing she had; that she just couldn't bear to leave behind, but she couldn't spare room for clothes. The same little pack, to hold everything she had to take instead.

Arina swallowed in cold horror as the other one jumped.

"What's going on!?" Her voice wasn't quite right. Recognizable, but not how she sounded to herself. Except in recordings.

Arina wanted to answer, but her tongue felt numb. What could she say? What could she do? Something terrible had happened, and, and... Now there was a copy of her.

The woman at the desk didn't have any of the same hesitation. "See? You made two trips. That isn't free. We need to cover the energy cost of the jump, and the depleted mass reserve on this end."

"But... But..." The other one just gaped. Arina could hardly blame her. It was all so much.

"No." Arina swallowed, and then stepped closer. This was all too much, but this was just stupid. This was someone trying to browbeat her into paying a bullshit charge. This, she could handle. "No, you can't con..." Arina trailed off. The other one was looking at her with new surprise and suspicion. Arina understood it, probably would have felt the same way—no, definitely would—in her shoes, but it still stung and creeped her the hell out. "Us." She swallowed, and tried to still her voice. "You can't con us. This was your cock-up, not my request. And I was told by an employee on the other end that I wouldn't be double-charged. But I didn't agree to pay, or waive my right to sue for duplicating me or offer anything else that is valid consideration. So unless this me did, there's no contract with either of us besides the ticket. The fact that your company screwed up handling it is your problem." Arina took a deep breath, and all the indignation slipped out of her. She started to tear up.

The woman mumbled something noncommital, but Arina wasn't really listening. She couldn't ignore it anymore. She was... She had been copied. There was someone else with her face, her name, a claim on her entire life... Or... No, she was the copy, wasn't she? When she teleported, they must have taken her apart and sent her over. And then, the system made her out of other parts, in the same pattern. Or... Was it only the pattern that got sent? Were they both copies?

Someone touched her hand, and Arina jumped. She looked back at the other Arina, who was holding her hands in front of her like she'd just flinched, and...

They said "Sorry!" at the same time.

The other Arina pulled her away from the woman at the desk to sit down in some of the seats in the waiting area. Arina took in a deep breath. She didn't know what to say. What could she say?

"You really are me." Arina looked at her other self, not sure what to make of that. "Thanks for dealing with that lady. I didn't... What exactly happened?"

"When they teleported you, I guess something went wrong, and the system put me back together. The people there didn't understand that was what happened, they thought it just... didn't work. One of them really did tell me I wouldn't get double charged, or just left there. So they sent me over. And that confused me and the woman working the station there. I... She was really shaken up, I really thought something was wrong with me. It's not, right?"

"No, don't worry. You look normal. I mean, backwards, but that's just how that is. It's weird hearing myself. I didn't know I, uh, we, had such a good assertive voice."

"Oh. I guess I did always worry it was a bit underwhelming... Um. How are you taking this in stride?"

"I'm not. I'm not at all. I'll be honest, I hate this. This is freakish and it's... wrong. But what can we do? Try to get them to pick one of us and disintegrate the other? There's no fixing this. So we just..."

"Have to deal with it." Arina sighed, and then gulped hard. "Yeah. You're right. Well of course I think that, but... Hah, I guess we're really sharing a struggle now, huh?"

"Oh, yeah. Oh! We need to call Nasrin!" Arina got her phone out just in time to see her other self digging in her pocket. They laughed, which thankfully wasn't in sync at all. She started dialling, and then remembered that she needed to phone into the station first. Then she set the phone to speaker. Her stomach tightened, as she heard the beeps, waiting for connection, playing unusually loud and out to the room. "How are we possibly going to explain this?"

"I don't know. How are we going to work any of this out at all?"

"I guess it's something we'll just have to figure out together."

"That's a very diplomatic way of saying we'll both wing it and hope it works out. But, I guess it will work out in the end."

"Yeah. I mean, it has to, right? What else could happen?"

"Good point." Arina started to think what might happen, and shook the grim thoughts of money issues or a lopsided accident out of her head. By the look of her, the other Arina did the same.


"Nasrin!" Both Arinas said it, in not quite harmony.

"Hi Ari! And... Pari, is that you too?"

They exchanged a glance. The other Arina blinked first. "Not quite." "Nasrin, do you remember how worried I was about some kind of teleporter accident? Well, um." "There's two of me now."

"What? Ari, that's—This isn't the time for jokes."

"It's" "I'm" "not a" "being" "joke." "serious."

"What? What the fuck? Ari, how are you—Parisa doesn't sound enough like you to do that. Oh my god. Oh my god, that's. Ari, are you okay?"

Arina looked at her other self, and gave her a thumbs up to talk first. It wouldn't be good to talk over each other again. "I'm fine." "I'm also okay. It's just... There's two of us." "It's really weird. I don't think it's really sunk in yet that this is real." "It's unnerving. I'm really nervous and I feel bad and I don't think I've processed all of this. I just want to go home. Oh, I am not ready to meet everyone else." "Or to even just explain... this to them, honestly."

"I... I also need a minute. Oh god. I'm just glad you're okay, Ari. God. That both of you are. We'll figure this out, all of us."

"Yeah." Arina swallowed. "Actually... If we both get jobs, we should be able to help save up for your ticket even faster, right?" "Oh, yeah!"

Nasrin laughed, almost a scoff. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess you will, huh? I'll get there fast, I promise. And then we can work out... everything. I don't know what I'm expecting to do. I just want to be there for you in person, I guess. This is... Something happening to you already is hard to deal with. I need to lay down. Is that... okay?"

Arina and the other Arina looked at each other, and nodded. "Yeah, that's okay." "This was a lot to just... spring on you." "I'd like to lie down, too."

"Okay. I love you, Ari. Both of you. Call me whenever, either of you. Or both, but, maybe video for that to make sure I can keep you straight."

"I love you too!" The other Arina said it at almost the exact same time. At least they weren't eerily coordinated.

Arina took a deep breath and then shut her eyes for a bit. She wasn't sure if the other Arina was doing the same, but she was staying quiet too, at least.

Thinking about her other self, the sight and sound of her, the way she was so familiar but not quite right made her skin crawl. It was a nightmare. It felt like a monster come to steal her face and name and life away from her. But it wasn't. She knew it wasn't. It was just... her. The very same person, up until just a little while ago. But that was almost worse. It wasn't, it so obviously wasn't, but it meant there was no solution. No monster to escape or kill. No magical fix. It wasn't a dream she could wake up from. It was for the rest of her life. Her life. How did you share a life? How did you share an identity?

She didn't want to pick another name. So the other Arina didn't want to, either. She didn't want to have everyone, not just close family, call her Ari, or for anyone to call her Rina. So the other Arina didn't. She didn't want to let something as stupid as blind chance decide who got their way, and she didn't want to throw the name away to make the mutual misery fair. So what could she possibly do? What could they do? At least they each had a copy of each of the few things they brought with them. Although, could both phones be connected to the network at once? That was going to be a headache. And so would be having to buy twice as many clothes as expected for their aunt and uncle, wouldn't it? Two extra mouths instead of one wasn't that bad, at least...

Would she have to share a room with the other Arina? Would she have to share a bed? A headache. It would be a headache.

Better focus on that than the horror of it. Like it was just one more shakeup in moving in with her aunt and uncle and Parisa. Like a stepsibling.

What if Parisa thought she was some kind of freak, now? But no, that wouldn't be like her, even her lately. Or Aunt Darya or Uncle Jawad? They... actually might, Arina thought. It was an oddly serene thought. They would still put up with her, anyways, so what would it really matter?

What if Nasrin thought she was a freak? Some awful monster she couldn't even tell apart from her own little sister? She had ended the call, and...

Arina opened her eyes, and looked over to see a reflection of her ghastly face in the other Arina. Similar thoughts, then. That was eerie to think about.

She didn't know what to say. Neither did the other Arina, apparently. Neither of them broke the silence for what must have been at least several minutes.

Then the other Arina stood up, and started waving. Arina shifted in place, and tried to make herself look small. She didn't want to break the news, not aloud, nor just by existing in the vicinity. She didn't want to deal with this, right now. She wished she could just be excited to see Parisa, like the other Arina. Or was that just a polite front?

She stole a glance over towards the approaching relatives, and brightened a bit to see it was just Parisa. Not Darya or Jawad, at least not right away. That would be easier. She looked away again, hoping Parisa wouldn't notice her right away. This was not how she wanted to meet her in person. She put her head in her hands, as much out of frustration as to hide herself.

"Parisa, hi! It's really good to see you! Except, um." The other Arina gave a little laugh, which wasn't faked very well.

"...Oh. Oh, hell." Arina couldn't help but look up at the sound of her cousin's voice, and sure enough Parisa was staring straight at her. She did not look friendly. "Arina, what the fuck did you do? Which one is the dupe?"

The other Arina looked at her, and at the very least, it looked like she was on the same page. There was a miserable, hushed moment, before Arina spoke up. "Both of us? I don't really know what you mean by that, but..."

"Neither of us is the 'real' Arina. We aren't doing that."

Parisa canted her head. Then she scowled. "But... One of you is. It's not a thing you do, it's just material fact."

"But..." Arina frowned. "How do you decide that?" It was arbitrary! They both got disassembled and reassembled by the teleporter, just in different places. How were you supposed to pick which one was the 'real' one? And why in hell was Parisa grilling them about it?

Parisa sighed, and pinched the bridge of her nose. "When you teleported, which of you stayed in the first place?" Arina looked at the other Arina, but they both stayed quiet. Parisa groaned. "Because that one is the real one, and the other is the dupe. It's a legal thing. It's important."

The other Arina spoke up immediately, then. "What does it matter? We're both Arina Khan, and your cousin. You know this is really hard to deal with, right? Why are you being like this?"

Arina couldn't blame her other self for that. Wanting to get an edge in, before she got thrown under the bus. Because she knew just as soon as Arina did which one was the real one. The one who came out second. Her. The lady at the desk could maybe even point her out, if she watched them sit down. She could solve all the problems and get the dibs to her life, because the law called the coin flip for them. And all she had to do was tell the truth.

But she didn't like that solution either.

"What are you looking at me for? She just laid it out for you, and I already said we aren't doing that. We're both Arina Khan. If there's legal problems, that's something we'll figure out." Arina swallowed, and felt a wave of anger creeping over her. "What the fuck is your problem, Pari? This is the first thing you say to me when we finally meet? I wouldn't have even expected that from your parents, but... What did you want, for me and her to be at each other's throats? Do you hate me or something?"

"What? No, I don't hate you! And that's not what I... Arina, I... Ari. I'm sorry." Suddenly, Parisa was crying. "Ari, I am really sorry, believe me. I just... I can't talk about this right now. In here. Let's go."

Arina exchanged a glance with the other Arina, and then they both followed Parisa on the way out. There was something more to this, but Arina really had no idea what it could be. Was the legal situation some kind of terrible? Was a... 'dupe' not legally a person, or something extreme like that? Or was Parisa just some really weird kind of bigot? None of it made sense. Neither Parisa nor the other Arina offered any words to help her get it.

Parisa walked them out of the room. She walked them out of the building. Arina gasped as she gazed out in the distance. She could see... It almost felt like she could see out for forever, at all the buildings and the paths between them and the greenery of more plants than she had ever seen, but it came to an end. It got smaller and smaller and then was swallowed up by that sky. That sky! It was such a beautiful shade of blue, and it just went on, and on, all above her head. It didn't seem real. It was something out of stories, videos she watched as a kid, but here it was right in front of her, richer than even the fiction. Even the clouds, they actually looked puffy, and were so white it stung her eyes—not even to mention trying to get her eyes close to the actual star. She made sure to keep her eyes away from that, but had to spin around in a slow circle just to take everything else in.

"Oh. Hahah, oh. This is you two's first time on a planet, huh? Hah! You look adorable right now, Ari. But drink it in. I'll have to show you some actually good views some time, because trust me, this does not measure up." Parisa laughed.

Arina felt a little better hearing Parisa talk like that, but took the advice to take the sites in. So did the other Arina, from the way she glimpsed her spinning. It did look pretty ridiculous, from outside.

Eventually, the novelty wore off enough that she was ready to get going. Again, about in tandem with her other self. That was convenient. They quietly followed Parisa out, eventually to a car. It was smaller than Arina had always imagined vehicles to be. And yet there was still so much space dedicated just for them, the vast majority of which wasn't even in use. Parisa got into one side of the front, as they each got into the back seats. And then Parisa got out of the front to show them how to pull the seatbelts out. Apparently, tugging too fast made them lock up.

After navigating out of what seemed the designated vehicle space for the nearby buildings, Parisa spun her seat around. The car kept driving. Parisa sighed. "I'm really sorry."

"It's okay." Arina looked at her other self because of course they did that again. Arina made a hand signal that she would go. "Apology accepted, no hard feelings. But... Why did you react like that?"

Parisa shifted in place, her seat swiveling a bit. "I panicked. I wasn't... It was unnerving. And it made me think of something bad. But. Ugh." Parisa sighed. "Mostly, I wanted to get it out of the way early. Dealing with one of you not being..." She rolled her hand in front of her and glanced away. "Real. I didn't want to get attached, if... But, you're both real. That's good. This was just an accident, right?"

The other Arina answered first. "That's right. The system messed up, apparently. It certainly wasn't our plan. Why would anyone ever plan that, anyways?"

Parisa looked suddenly guilty. Arina tried not to show the sudden curiosity on her face, but suspected she didn't fare any better at it than the other Arina. Parisa sighed. "Yeah, that's a good question. Look, I can tell you about this, but... Not right now. The important thing is you're both real, and you're in that together. And I am too, I promise. I thought... Oh. Does cousin Nasrin know?"

"Yeah, we called her pretty quickly after getting out. We didn't talk for very long, it was... A bit of a shock. For all three of us."

"Okay, that's good. Really good. Look... No, I shouldn't say, yet. Ugh. Just, know that it's very important that you're on each other's side with this."

"Where else would I be? There's not really another side, is there?"

The other Arina started speaking almost as soon as she stopped. "Even if there was another side, we'd stick with each other. I trust her not to screw me, because I trust myself not to screw her. Because, well, I don't want to screw myself."

Parisa was, all of a sudden, and rather confusingly, trying very hard not to laugh.

Arina looked over at Arina, and her eyes said she didn't get it either. Parisa was acting more herself again, but she was still a bit weird just normally, Arina was starting to remember.

It was going to be a long day.