Unitards All the Way Down
There was a fat man wearing a silver lamé unitard standing in his living room. The interloper had flaming red hair and a beard to match. To Professor Maximilian Tundra’s horror, the intruder looked just like him.
Max couldn’t decide what was more astonishing – the fact that he had an identical twin, or how terrible he looked wearing that metallic jumpsuit. He almost dropped the tumbler full of bourbon he had hoped would calm him down, he was so amazed. He had a sip of alcohol and realized that he would never recover from how humiliating that other Max looked. Like Max himself, his unwanted guest was a big man, about one hundred and eighty centimeters, just under six feet, which helped him carry a lot of extra weight. A lot. Max’s doppelganger had the same wild red hair that Max struggled with every morning. The same full beard, a shade darker than his hair. The silver onesie was a nightmare of shiny folds and rolls. It was as though Patrick the Starfish had a drunken fling with a machine that extruded tinfoil, and then put on a red wig. Surely this new and silvery nightmare Max was fatter than him? Please?
“It took you long enough to get here, old boy. I say, do you mind if I borrow some togs from you? And where do you keep your scotch?”
Max was nonplussed, but said: “Scotch? Nobody’s had scotch since the war.”
“Oh dear, what happened?” the other Max asked.
“No, you tell me what the fuck is going on! Do you have something to do with the spaceship?” Max asked. Earlier that day, while he was teaching his second-year class in applied existentialism, a strange craft had appeared above the skies of Landon, Ontario, Max’s hometown.
The ship had looked – initially – like the shimmery cosmic scrotum of an old man. Two large spheres contained in one wrinkled package.
“Here, take this bourbon.” He thrust the glass of Kentucky whiskey into the other Max’s hand and hobbled back into the kitchen to pour himself an even larger tumbler full.
“My designation is MT-13, by the by. My understanding is you’ll be MT-9. Why you get a higher rating than me is up to the boffins, of course, but I have several months’ experience with the crew, and you’d think that would count for something.” He sniffed. “I was the first one they picked up, ages ago!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, why you look exactly like me, and, and . . . why you’re wearing that,” Max said, waving his free hand at the unitard.
“Ah, yaaas,” the other Max said. Max decided to call him Jeeves because of his plummy English accent and the slight gap in his front teeth. Further proof of some difference between them. “It’s what they gave me to wear when they snatched me from my universe. I was . . . uh . . . in flagrante delicto.”
Max’s eyebrows rose. Jeeves did not cut the kind of figure that he figured would have much luck with the ladies. “Really.”
“Yes, a lovely little chicken who needed a strong role model in his life.”
Max caught the masculine pronoun, and his eyebrows rose higher.
“Oh, not another one. Another cis?” Jeeves asked.
“Do you mean heterosexual? Yes, I guess I am.”
“I haven’t had many romantic partners,” Max admitted.
“Well, that’s tragic. Maybe you’re playing on the wrong side.”
“Oh, uh . . . no, I don’t think so.”
“Fair enough,” MT-13 – Jeeves – said. He sipped his drink, and he smiled. “This isn’t half bad, you know. A bit sweet for my taste, but not terrible. What is it?”
“Ah, American whiskey, with an e. How modern. Now, those togs. Do you mind if I get out of this disaster and put on something less flaming?”
“Oh god yes, please put on some normal clothes,” Max said with relief. “My clothes are all in the bedroom. First door on the left.”
Max downed his bourbon. It was quite good. One of Kentucky’s – Columbia’s most famous whiskey-producing state – best.
“You’ve only got one bloody suit in here!” Jeeves shouted from Max’s bedroom.
“Of course. Why would I need more than one?”
“It looks like a blooming undertaker’s outfit!”
“It’s fine for most formal occasions. There’s lots of other clothes.”
“They’re all ripped jeans and Hawaiian shirts. You’re not destitute enough to be a private investigator. Are you a fucking science fiction writer?” Jeeves asked.
“What? No, I teach Ideologies! At Helmuth University!” Max shouted. “Feel free to keep wearing that ridiculous jumpsuit if you don’t see anything you like. You’re the beggar in this situation!”
“Fair enough. I’m wearing your funereal suit.”
“It’s my only one.”
“You’re not going to need it where you’re going. You may want to bring a jumper though. It can get cold when we’re on the hop.”
Max finished his bourbon, collapsed onto his couch, and said, “I’m not hopping anywhere with a broken toe.” He’d broken it the moment after he’d spotted the space scrotum earlier that morning.
Max liked to lecture barefoot because he had tenure and he was desperate to seem interesting. He had been on a roll, pacing up and down between the desks, burdening his undergraduate students with his thoughts on the uses of existential thought, or Applied Existential Wankery as he thought of it privately. As he had lectured and paced, he had caught sight of the spaceship and then . . . bam, his big right toe had gone forcefully into a desk leg. His unconventionally long – some would argue sociopathically long – toenail had pushed backwards into the nailbed and then had shattered under the stress. It had driven Max to the hospital.
“Could you pour me another bourbon? The bottle’s in the kitchen.”
Jeeves reappeared in Max’s only suit. The Brit had also found Max’s only white dress shirt and his good tie. “I’ll give you this, it’s nice material,” Jeeves said. “Now, let’s get you that drink, and then we can get out of here.”
“You know that jacket is way too small for you,” Max noted, happy for evidence he wasn’t as fat as Jeeves. Max grinned as he noticed the trousers were also straining to contain his counterpart’s gut.
“Shut it,” Jeeves replied. “Do you want your bourbon or not?”
“Fine,” Max said. He wasn’t quite sure he liked this gay, British version of himself. Assuming he was real. “What do you do?”
“At the moment, I’m the one who’s collecting you for our mission. But if you mean what did I do, I was a doctor. A urologist, to be specific. Or rather, I was.”
“A gay British urologist,” Max said. He was searching for a joke.
“Don’t!” Jeeves commanded. “I’ve heard ’em all, luv.” He came back with the drinks. He’d poured himself another as well. “So, we’ll finish these and then back to the ship.”
“The ship? You mean the giant ball sack that appeared this morning?”
“Yes. We can’t stay here for long, or we run the risk of destroying this universe.”
“Hmm. You don’t want this universe to completely decohere, do you? Hmm?”
Max had long suspected that he was likely to go mad, but he hadn’t really counted on it happening this soon. He still had many things he wanted to accomplish in life. He wanted to lose weight – a notion greatly reinforced after meeting Jeeves. He was going to adopt a mutt. Maybe put in the effort to find a girlfriend one day, after he proved he could commit to the dog? And of course, he had yet to finish his definitive book on the existential wankery of the Irish refugee writer and ideologist Samuel Beckett.
“It was the drugs,” Max said. “All those psychotropic drugs I took in Thailand, the years between reading Ideologies at New Cambridge and my PhD at Queen’s. It must be why.”
“I’m sorry, old bean, but I don’t follow.”
“I’ve lost my mind, clearly.”
“Ah, well, I’m not a psychiatrist, but it’s fair to say that most of us have that reaction when we’re first confronted with the knowledge there are multiple universes and you’re needed for our mission to save them all. It is a bit much,” Jeeves said.
“A bit much? A bit much?” Max asked. “You taking my only suit is a bit much. What you just said is . . .”
“Madness?” Jeeves suggested.
“Madness. It’s one thing to consider the multi-verse theory for fun, but to be confronted with it in fact is just . . .”
“Yeah. I don’t know what that means exactly, but it sounds right. Gobsmacking. And why the fuck do I have to save the multi-verse?”
“We actually don’t hyphenate it, luv. Multiverse. Trippingly, you know. Repeat after me: multiverse. Oh, you should hear the Scottish Max say it. ‘Multay-Varsss.’ It’s bloody hilarious.”
“Got it in one, old bean. I say, are you sure you’re not at least a little curious?”
“You know, having sex with yourself. I think we have a few moments to spare.”
“Holy c’mon!” Max said. “If anything, I’ve always felt sorry for anyone having sex with me.”
“Hmm. You’re a hard case, I can see. I’m not sure how you’re going to fare with the others.”
“Others?” Max was wrapping his head around the idea of there being multiple versions of himself. “They’re not all wearing mylar unitards, are they?”
“Of course not. Only about half of them are . . .”
“I don’t think she enters in on it. Anyway, last shout before we have to go.”
“I believe you say ‘closing time’ here? At least, that was the saying on this side of the pond in my universe. One more drink for the road?”
“Oh god yes, but I’m not going with you.”
“Fair enough. We’ll just let the multiverse disappear, shall we? Let me get you another bourbon at least before we – and every other living creature in infinite universes – all cease to exist.”
Max proffered his glass, and Jeeves disappeared in the kitchen. The alcohol was starting to affect Max, and a warm feeling enveloped him. He lay back on the couch and tried to feel okay with losing his mind. Several of his colleagues were technically insane, or so socially inept they would qualify as mentally challenged, so he should still be able to go to work and teach. It might even help him with his book. He also liked the idea that there was a version of Samuel Beckett who didn’t die fighting the Nazis in occupied France.
He liked that idea very much. Maybe Beckett even wrote some more plays and novels in other universes.
“Here you go, old bean,” Jeeves said, handing Max his whiskey.
Max drank it down in one long gulp and sighed. Better. Wait, he thought, what’s that taste?
“Sorry, chum, but you know, can’t have this universe turning into a giant honeydew melon, or whatever happens to be your last dominant thought.”
“What a pisser . . .”
Things went dark, and Max heard Jeeves drawl, “I told you, luv, I’ve heard ’em all.”