It was a simple statement of fact; the news bulletin attached no special significance to the figures. Only, somehow the number resonated in a way that I would not have expected an abstract mathematical representation to do: I had seen it before. That I was sure of. It just took me a while to remember where.
‘The Interglobal Government confirmed today that the total human population, including Earth and its colonies, has now topped 3,000,000,0004. Indeed, the total human population is now so large and widely dispersed that the results of this last census have taken over a decade to collate.’
‘…over a decade to collate…’ So, there must be many more humans even than this number by now: the population was growing exponentially now that room had been found for it to do so. ‘Find space and we will fill it’ – this might as well be the motto of humanity. It is strange to think that there was once a time, many, many millennia ago (we do not know exactly when; the electronic archives dating from that era are too primitive for us to pinpoint it with real accuracy) when all humans still dwelled upon the Earth.
In any case: 3,000,000,0004 – yes, I knew this number, this number so vast that its reality cannot even be properly represented. I knew it, or at least, I knew how I knew of it. It came back to me as I gazed at myself in the bathroom mirror. The number of base pairs in human DNA is approximately 3 billion. Each base pair can be one of four combinations; therefore the total number of combinations is something like 3 billion to the fourth power: 3 billion x 3 billion x 3 billion x 3 billion. 3,000,000,0004.
The significance of this was immense. The total human population now outnumbered the total possible combinations allowed for by human DNA. How was it only me who had seen it? Ah, but it was not only me, that I knew: one other must have seen it.
My doppelganger. An exact replica of me, or me of them. They had to exist. Statistics attested to it: not just any old dubious statistics, but the statistics of the Interglobal Government itself. I had to find him – for of course it must be a him – this doppelganger, my identical double, had to search no matter how difficult it would be. But… if I chose to search, wouldn’t he be searching too? Searching for me, this me, right here, while I was off wandering the galaxy? So, I should stay and wait. But… if I decided to stay and wait, surely that is what he would decide too? Surely we would decide the same, whatever that decision was. It was impossible for us ever to meet. We could only either both stay, or both go. And in that moment I hated him, this unknown doppelganger. I hated him for tormenting me in this way, for presenting me with a dream of unison and then just as swiftly snatching it away. And then it came to me in a flash of inspiration: I would have my revenge, even across the vast reaches of the cosmos. My doppelganger would pay the ultimate price for his sadistic game. I would kill myself.
As I lie here now on my sweat-soaked bed, feeling the overdose kicking in my stomach, fear of death rising for the first time through my veins, I am comforted that at least I have inflicted this same tragic fate upon him: my other, my tormentor, my doppelganger, wherever he may be.
Joe lives on the edge of Dartmoor in South West England. You can read more of his stories here.