Author: Beck Dacus

Morris’s gun bobbed as he walked, a glint of moonlight catching his eye with each step. His progress was slow; leaves, sticks, and stones crunched under his feet, sucking the energy from his stride. He dared not use a flashlight this far from camp— it was safer to wander by moonlight and listen to the Geiger-counter-like crackle coming through his earpiece from the Zenobox bouncing on his hip.

The Zenobox was a curious quantum-mechanical novelty that happened to have revolutionary consequences for warfare. Twelve dim green LEDs on the housing, in two rows of six, blinked on and off depending on the spin direction of just as many electrons encased within. The electrons weren’t in one definite state or the other until they were “measured”; the LEDs, entangled with them, weren’t either. But if someone looked at the box and the lights on it, their wave function would collapse, along with those of the electrons. The box registered this as an audible click, telling the wearer that they were being watched.

Of course, being a quantum-mechanical device, the Zenobox spoke in probabilities; it could only give a certain chance that you weren’t alone. The use of twelve electrons pushed this uncertainty down to a manageable level, but random spikes would still waft through the earpiece from time to time. Some of the guys in Morris’s squad had tested it out, sealing themselves in bathroom stalls with all the lights off, but there was no way to get rid of the “chirps.” On boring days, his squadmates would weave tales attributing the chirps to passing ghosts, or people in other universes catching a glimpse of you in the corner of their eye. Morris just laughed along, never giving the stories any stock.

Until one night, wandering the forest alone, the hiss from his Zenobox became steadily louder.

He waited for the buzz to cower back down to random static, but it rose with every passing second. When he could no longer ignore it, he whirled around, sighting down his rifle, looking for the deep maroon of enemy armor. Still, the noise crept up, even as he turned, his Zenobox passing in and out of every possible line of sight. How is that possible? he said to himself. And how is the reading gradually increasing? A person can either see me or they can’t— there’s no in-between. Something’s not right here. Some kind of faulty, experimental perception-masking tech?

Morris was out of ideas. He called out, “It is a far, far better thing that I do…” But instead of hearing the end of the classic quote that would have indicated friendlies, he heard an echo of his own voice. I didn’t say it that loud, he thought. What the hell is going on!?

The Zenobox signal reached a crescendo in his ear, but he still couldn’t see anything. In a panic, he turned on his flashlight, trying to point it in every direction at once. Then he saw twelve green LEDs, four on and eight off, sitting on the belt of an armed man, who at that same instant turned around.

It was himself. It was Morris.

And then he was gone, the original Morris once again alone in the forest. He tried to catch his breath and regain his sanity, questioning if he really saw what he thought he did. But it was real; he had no doubt. It was himself, with his own Zenobox on his hip; unlike his own right arm, however, his doppelganger’s was some kind of prosthetic.

And his armor was an unmistakable red.