"Entangled Web"

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A wrapped box was on the kitchen table next to a platter of steaming bacon. Yes, just one present, but I had asked for only one thing, what every sixteen-year-old wants this year: the first quantum smartphone, the Amplitude iQ6.

“Happy birthday, sweetie,” Mom said. Dad pushed a plate of waffles shaped like the Death Star toward me.

I snagged a strip of bacon (crispy, almost charcoal, just the way I like it) and wiped my fingers clean before picking up the gift. I shredded the pink-heart paper (really, Mom?) to reveal the slim, black velvet case I’d been dreaming about.

Inside was a rectangle of translucent plastic engraved with my name. It glowed at my touch, the 3-D display informing me its name was Lex.

“‘Morning, Lex.” I stroked the phone’s cool surface, frowning at the laser-etched letters marring its sleek, simple perfection.

“Happy birthday, Erica.” Lex’s default voice was a sexy English lady, exactly what I would choose.

“How...?” Dad asked.

“Biometrics, dear,” Mom said.

“I’m already in its quantum database. Other Ericas, same prints.” I wiggled my fingers.

I started syncing my EveryMe account. No need to charge the phone even, because it drew power from the freaking air. Science FTW!

“--ignoring us. I already regret getting you that,” Dad said.

“I’m listening.” I scrolled through the transcript Lex had recorded of the conversation I’d fully missed.

Mom: We’ll pay for six months of service, but then you’re on your own.

Dad: A car would have been cheaper in the long run, and more useful. Helloooo? Oh, you’re ignoring us.

“Six months is fully generous,” I said. I’d need to pick up an extra couple shifts a week at the bowling alley to afford my new gadget. “Thanks, guys. I love you.”

Aw. Group hug.

By the time I was dressed for school, my phone was ready.

I was ready.

The main reason everyone wants a quantum smartphone? To run its exclusive app: Tangle. I tapped the pulsing triangular icon, and my world expanded.

#

I snapped a picture of my bus as it arrived and uploaded it to Tangle. I climbed onboard, thumbing through identical photos of other buses.

No, not identical -- similar. My school bus was classic yellow, but some were puke green or black and grey, or even a weird shape. In most pics Craig was in his usual seat, third from the front.

I didn’t think too hard about the ones where he wasn’t.

“You got it!” Craig said when I sat next to him. “Hippo birdie.” He tapped his iQ6 against mine like a champagne toast. Our phones flared pink as Katie and Lex bonded. BPFs: Best Phones Forever!

“So?” Craig asked.

“Undecided. There’s too much info coming at me.”

My number of Tangle followers was increasing by the second.

“You’re auto following. Here.” Craig showed me how to limit my feed to the Ericas who were most like me, taking it to a manageable 430. And counting.

“Quick, check this.” He tipped his phone toward me.

I – no, another Erica – grinned at the camera, holding up an iQ6. I snapped a pic of it on my phone before it disappeared forever.

The picture was reversed, creating an eerie mirror effect when I looked at it. Except other Erica was showing way more cleavage. Kinda hot. I tugged at my tank top.

“Don’t upload that pic! Your account will be suspended. You aren’t supposed to do that,” Craig said.

“Oh. Oops.” I deleted flirty Erica and uploaded a selfie. Not flirty.

The Ericas flashing by my screen all wore cuter outfits than me. They were having better hair days too. I had two zits on my chin.

Happy birthday, girl.

#

You’re limited to following your other selves on Tangle, but there were more than enough of me out there in the whateverse to keep me busy swiping every chance I got, in the halls, during class, and yeah, on the toilet.

Oh, you do it too.

Soon I was quick at spotting all the differences in the allotted eight seconds. See enough pics, and you can even imagine what their lives are like. Some of us were obviously dating their Craig, which you know, I’ve considered, but he isn’t my type.

A missing ping pong table in an Erica’s basement made me wonder if her Dad hadn’t survived the stroke a few years back. Some Ericas were smokers or drinkers – Untangle! – but most were into cinema like me.

There are even some guy versions. Erics? But they keep uploading pictures of their junk. Boys. Untangle!

I’ve been paying attention to one Erica in particular, even though that’s against the terms of service too.

The fine print: Supposedly if you follow someone too closely on Tangle, you could start feeling what they feel. Thinking what they think.

But how could you tell?

Is that why I feel so sad all the time now?

#

It’s hard seeing so many possibilities. Another you is always having more fun, looking shinier, getting better grades, having more sex. And some Ericas... They’re mean.

Like, sure, I could be thinner.

Why don’t I wear contacts?

Why don’t I have a girlfriend?

Erica.2344 is going to kill herself. She posted a photo of sleeping pills, just like the bottle on my night table.

Erica.1111: Eh. What’s one less Erica?

Erica.330: She’s a waste of electrons.

Erica.Prime: Don’t! Get help.

That’s me, I’m Erica.Prime. But I bet we all think we are. I’m probably #9999. An unlimited edition. What do I matter?

Erica.2344 posts a photo of the open bottle.

I hold a handful of blue and gold pills.

She posts a selfie of her swallowing them.

I hesitate, counting the eight seconds until the photo disappears.

The message flashes: User “Erica.2344” not found.

Hands shaking, pills slipping through my fingers like sand, I tap my screen.

Uninstall Tangle? Lex asks.

My thumb hovers over the green button.

Yes.

About the Author: 
E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library. He is the author of numerous short stories and three young adult books: the Andre Norton Award–winning Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, and The Silence of Six.