Duped

Damn! There it is again!

Louis was annoyed. He had flagged this email as spam several times, but the filter never caught it. The subject line said only: “Attention: Louis.” The sender was “no-reply@no-address.xxx”. There were no attachments. But he was darned if he was going to open it.

The next time it showed up in his mailbox, the subject line had been appended to read, “Attention: Louis – the content of this message will not harm your computer.” (No. Still not going to open it. Of course they would say that.)

“Attention: Louis – the message is safe to open.”

“Attention: Louis – if you’re that bothered, log into your email on a computer at the library.” (Yeah, but my mailbox could still get infected and pass it along!)

“Attention: Louis – set up a new email account and look for this message there.” (Like I need any more email accounts!)

“Attention: Louis – use an old email account on your old e-reader.”

That one did make Louis wonder. He did indeed have an old e-reader — one of the first Android tablet clones. But these days he just read e-books on his smartphone. Now he was curious and went to look for that old tablet in the elephant’s graveyard in his den. While it was charging, he found an old email account that he thought he might remember the password for and managed to log in — and there was the message!

“Attention: Louis – once the tablet is fully charged, set up this email account and read this message.”

The tablet took a while to start up, but then the WiFi connection was made with no trouble. Louis set up the email feature and found the message.

“Attention: Louis – you’re ready now!” This time, Louis did open the email.

*****

It was a long email of text and inline diagrams and images. There were links to audio and video files. Louis ended up carrying the old tablet with him and looking at it whenever he got a chance. Some of the content was familiar to him. There was discourse of religions and major events in world history. But the context in which the ideas were presented was something he had never encountered before — and after a month, a found himself looking at the world through a very different lens.

Some of it was exciting, though, and he wished to share it with his wife, Lorraine. One day she was curious to know what he had been reading on that old e-reader and he passed it to her — but the device crashed and he was unable to get it to restart for the rest of the evening. When he managed to restart it the next morning, he forwarded the email to Lorraine — but almost immediately got an Undeliverable notification. He checked Lorraine’s email address again and saw that he had entered it correctly. But when he tried again later, the same thing happened; and when he checked his regular email, he found the following:

“Attention: Louis — message intended for you only. Lorraine and Lola will receive in due course.” Lola was their three-year old daughter. It would be years before she could realistically receive such a message. Louis was wracked with doubts about everything: the school plans for Lola; his job as a real estate broker; and the community he and Lorraine belonged to and were so active in — especially their church. But he was unable to share his change of heart with Lorraine.

*****

After three months of soul searching, Louis was granted a courtesy exit. His soul departed his body one night and he started a new life on another world far from the troubled Earth. And in the morning, a duplicate Louis kissed Lorraine goodbye and dropped off Lola at daycare on the way to work. Lorraine and Lola are as yet unaware of the loss — although Lola does wonder why Daddy no longer suffers from allergies.

Louis is not the only person who has received the message and then taken a courtesy exit. Most people receive the message by an email communication — but this just one possible medium. Printed books and audiobooks can show up mysteriously as well. What is true in every case is that the message cannot be shared with anyone else. Emails cannot be forwarded; books go missing; CDs will not play. The message is customized for each recipient, which is why sharing is not allowed.

Dupes are everywhere — and their numbers have now passed one billion and continue to grow. They are neighbors, friends, and perhaps even family. They are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media. You work alongside them — and might even have hired or fired a few. They serve in the armed forces and in elected offices of government in countries the world over — and they are amongst the multitude of migrants descending on Europe.

One person at a time……

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