My first thought is that Beta’s flipped out and gone all Michael-Douglas-in-Falling–Down. After all, his laptop setup is the only untouched, recognizable part of what used to be my bedroom, and he is just standing there with a totally shell-shocked expression on his face. But then I see the opened closet door—the closet where Mini should be locked away for safe keeping—and I know what’s happened: he’s escaped. Mini’s escaped, and now he’s on the loose, unsupervised, unrestrained. And my room’s been turned into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I’m not even kidding. There’s actual rubble scattered across the floor, a pile of human skulls stacked between the bed and the desk.
I close and lock the door, pressing my back up against it. “Beta?”
Beta shakes his head, as if coming out of a trance, and looks at me. “Oh. Hey, little dude.”
“What the heck happened to my room?”
A coyote howls in the distance.
Beta says, “You’re not going to believe me.”
I pay the mountain of skulls another glance. “There’s a pile of human skulls now occupying my bedroom. I don’t think anything you say can be more unbelievable than that.”
“All right, then. It was the strangest thing—this little toy doll started doing cartwheels and screaming about being on some kind of mission to get you laid.” Beta shakes his head. “At least, that’s what I thought I saw.”
My brain conveniently discards the part about me getting laid. “And you didn’t stop him?”
“Well, to be honest, by the time I’d decided I wasn’t on some kind of virtual acid trip, the little guy had already done a pretty good job of tearing the place apart. Besides, I know better than to step between a boy and his dolls.”
“Har-har.” I squat to pick up a copy of Glass Hammer’s Perilous. Luckily the CD’s still intact, though the booklet has pictures of stick-figure couples having sex in a variety of exotic positions scribbled in permanent marker throughout. This is getting out of hand. Mini’s always been ornery, but he’s never trashed a room or destroyed thousands of dollars’ worth of manga, Wii games, programming manuals, and progressive rock CDs. I’m not being materialistic; I just think it’s wasteful. China. Starving kids. And all that.
Clutching Perilous to my chest, I pick my way through the debris. My desk chair is MIA, and my bed’s been flipped upside down, so I sit on the pile of skulls—which is more comfortable than it looks. I take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and ponder the impossibility of trying to get things cleaned up before my parents discover there’s now a post-apocalyptic wasteland in their house.
Beta clears his throat. “So, uh…care to explain how or why you’ve got a plush doll version of yourself running around and causing trouble on your behalf?”
No, not really. “Ever see ‘The Enemy Within?’ You know, the Star Trek episode?”
“Was Captain Kirk born on March 22?” Beta waits for me to answer. When I merely scowl at him, he says, “Of course.”
“I think Mini’s sort of like Party Kirk,” I continue, “and I’m supposed to be, er, Stay-at-Home Kirk.”
“Except you never went through a transporter clogged up with magnetic ore.”
“I’m sure the proliferation of cell phone towers and Wi-Fi hot-spots is a present-day equivalent.”
Beta looks unconvinced. “Then why aren’t all phone-wearing, laptop-carrying twelve-year-olds getting plush cancer?”
“He says he’s my, um, inner voice or libido or something.”
“Yeah, yeah. A physical manifestation of your subconscious, your ego, your competitive edge, your, uh, jism, as the cool kids say. I know.”
“You do?” Oh, God.
“We chatted briefly before he bummed bus fare from one of your pants pockets and booked out.” Beta points to where a makeshift rope comprised of tied-together T-shirts and boxer shorts trails out the open window. “I’m telling you, I try to keep an open mind, but this whole thing is weirder than that Joe Salter dude who did an entire triathlon while juggling.”
I give Beta a look.
He shrugs. “What? I like to apply what I read in the Weird News section of the Huffington Post to the real world. Don’t change the subject. You have a mini-me. There’s got to be a reason why.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “He just sort of…happened one day.” And now he’s on the loose and doing God-knows-what to who-knows-who. “What am I going to do?”
Beta waves his hand dismissively. “It could be worse: you could have multiple sclerosis and be living on a server.”
“Not to be a jerk, but you say that about everything.”
Beta blinks. “Not everything.”
“The other night when I was working on that band Web site and you were playing Wii, I mentioned what a bitch it was getting the merchant code integrated, and you told me to mellow out because at least I didn’t have MS.”
“Okay, that was one time—”
“And the night before, when I mentioned that I’d lost my cell phone charger. ‘At least you don’t have MS and aren’t living on a server.’”
“You’re a hurtful little bugger sometimes, aren’t you?”
I’m really not, though I realize I’m being pretty childish at the moment—and I hate myself for it. I hate Mini for it. He’s always telling me that he’s my inner self, my mover and shaker. But the more I get to know him, the more I’m convinced he’s all plush. I’m not a pot waiting to boil over, and I don’t think about sex all the time. Even so, I’d be lying if I said a small part of me wasn’t entertaining the possibility of his being right. What if he really is Party Kirk to my Lame Kirk? It’s not the fight I’m afraid of, it’s, well…what if he wins?
My cell phone rings. I fish it out of my pocket, not recognizing the number but answering it anyway as a means of escaping the moment. “Hello?”
“Theo? Oh, thank goodness. It’s me, Jan. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure. What’s going on?”
“I’m kind of in bad trouble.”