Gull Stanton hurled a brick at the Public Information Booth and watched with satisfaction as the glass fell away, taking with it the garish poster of Captain Aerial, self-proclaimed interdimensional megastar. Sorting through the shards with his boot, he slid the poster towards him and ground his heel into the man’s face – a face that apart from a few subtle differences was identical to his own. It wasn’t fair. Why should that big-shot be raking in bluebacks hand over fist, while he had to work double shifts in a dead-end cleaning job just to buy food? He was everything Captain Aerial was. It should be him flying around arenas with his jetpack, singing songs to hordes of adoring fans.
From what he’d read in interviews, their lives had diverged five years earlier when they’d each received their share of the profits from the sale of his dead grandmother’s house. Gull had used the money to go on a year-long vacation, living a playboy lifestyle at the Hotel Métropole in Monte-Carlo, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and various other fashionable hotels; Captain Aerial had started a small salvaging business, specializing in the collection of obsolete satellites from the earth’s upper atmosphere, and discovered a revolutionary transportation device capable of opening doorways between dimensions aboard a derelict alien spaceship. The potential applications of such a device were mind-boggling, but Captain Aerial had chosen to use it to make obscene amounts of money, first by offering interdimensional tours to a rich clientele and then by launching a music career. The man turned out to have a pretty good voice, and once he’d hired himself a decent backing band, there was no stopping him. Flitting from universe to universe, he’d achieved a widespread fame like nobody before.
At Christmas the previous year, Captain Aerial had arrived in Gull’s dimension for the first time, and the moronic public had immediately started buying his albums. They chatted about him endlessly, blogged about him on social media, idolized him. It was all right for them! He wasn’t their counterpart. When they saw pictures of the bastard driving away in a Lamborghini, they weren’t constantly being tormented by the thought that it should have been them. Damn the man! Why couldn’t he have stayed in his own freaking universe?
Gull felt a shard of glass pressing against the side of his boot and realized he still had his foot on the poster. He stepped away quickly. Cops tended not to bother themselves with shitty parts of the city like this, but it was best not to take any chances. The last thing he wanted to do was to spend the night in a cell.
As if on cue, a siren sounded in the distance. He hurried onwards along the street. Concrete tenements covered with graffiti rose to either side of him, interspersed with liquor and convenience stores fortified with wire mesh, while at the end of the block there was a power station behind a high wall topped with security spikes, its four metal chimney stacks belching steam into the air above. People said the area was up and coming, but even though there were a few building sites in evidence, it had a hell of a long way to go before it arrived. Gull’s eyes shifted to the downtown area. It couldn’t be more than a mile or two away, yet how different it looked – a forest of towers piercing the sky like giant fingers – classic American skyscrapers beaming out advertising from three dimensional monitors built into their glass facades, the pagodas of Chinatown, the fantastical creations of the bioarchitecturalists with their treelike columns branching upwards to impossible heights.
Gull cocked his head to the side, listening intently. That flaming siren was getting closer. He needed a place to hide. He spotted a bar on an intersecting street and jogged towards it.
A sign above the door identified the place as ‘Pitchers and Pitchers’, so he wasn’t surprised to find it was baseball themed. The walls were hung with photographs of famous players and other memorabilia, and there was a waxwork figure of Babe Ruth standing in the corner. Probably, it would have been a nice place to spend some time in its day, but now, there was a distinct air of neglect. Most of the seats had tears in them and there were patches of mold on one of the walls.
Gull paused in the doorway, surveying the customers. They were blue collar types – construction workers, truck drivers, mechanics.
He groaned as he noticed a television behind the bar projecting footage of a Captain Aerial concert. Perhaps he should accidentally spill a drink on it to see if he could short out the circuitry. No, tempting as it was, that kind of behavior was a good way to get himself thrown out. Instead, he sat down on a vacant stool and ordered himself a bottle of beer.
He stared moodily at the image of Captain Aerial prancing about on stage as he raised the bottle to his lips. He could move better than that if only someone would give him the chance.
“He’s really something, isn’t he?” said a voice from the seat beside him.
He turned and found himself looking at a middle-aged woman with a chubby face. She was a desperate singleton by the look of her – skirt ridiculously short, hair dyed neon pink and swept up in a gravity defying style, a thick layer of pale foundation smeared across her face to hide the wrinkles.
Assuming she was referring to Captain Aerial and having no inclination whatsoever to talk about him, Gull ignored her.
“You look a little like him, you know,” the woman went on, unperturbed by his lack of response. Actually, you look a lot like him. What’s your name?”
Gull sighed. “My name’s Gull, and I don’t look like him; he looks like me.”
The woman’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Is there a difference?”
“Yes there is,” Gull snapped.
“I take it you’re not a fan, then?” said the woman.
Gull took another swig of beer and slammed his bottle down on the bar in front of him. “No, I’m not.”
“Any particular reason?” the woman asked.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Gull replied.
“But that voice…” said the woman, half closing her eyes in dreamy contemplation. “How can you not love a voice like that? It’s so full of passion. And those lips… what I wouldn’t give to be kissed by a pair of lips like that.”
Gull blinked. This was a come-on, wasn’t it? He looked her up and down. She wasn’t close to attractive, but he wouldn’t say no if she was going to hand herself to him on a plate. As a lowly hospital janitor, he wasn’t exactly inundated with romantic interest. He puckered up his lips. “Your wish is my command.”
The woman looked unimpressed. “Sorry sugar, but it wouldn’t be the same.”
“Maybe not,” said Gull, “but it’s the closest you’re gonna get.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t you believe it. Captain Aerial’s playing the Rainbow Arena at the weekend, and I’ve got a ticket and a plan to get in his pants. I’m going to hang back until he plays “Every Me Loves Every You,” then I’m going to jump the stage and twerk for him.” She smiled smugly as if this was truly inspired. “It was nice talking to you.” With that, she turned away and began chatting to a man on her opposite side.
Gull felt a pang of disappointment. Why was it things never went his way? Because they were too busy going Captain Aerial’s, that was why. He gulped down the rest of his beer and went back to studying the television. What was the singer’s secret? Why was he so damn popular? Gull stared into his eyes as the camera zoomed in, but there was nothing there that he hadn’t seen thousands of times in the mirror. Suddenly, he had a burning desire to see Captain Aerial in person. Perhaps then, it would all become clear.
Once the idea had occurred to him, it was hard to shake. He thought about it as he stepped out of the bar a few hours later, he thought about it as he watched a group of girls taking pictures of themselves with a billboard poster of Captain Aerial through the sky-bus window on his way home, and he thought about it the following evening at the hospital as he dragged an industrial strength vacuum cleaner around the maze of insipid corridors. Yes, he needed to do this, and the gig at the local arena was the perfect opportunity. All he had to do was buy a ticket. It would cost him a small fortune no doubt, but that was life. If the worst came to the worst, he could always sell an organ to raise the money. He’d done it before. In this day and age, the artificial replacements they were giving out were almost as good as the real thing.
So it was that when the time came for him to take his break, Gull headed straight to the staff room – a soulless basement affair with three vending machines and plastic furniture – and posted an online ticket request with his phablet. Within minutes, he was inundated with replies, all saying the same thing – the concert had sold out months ago.
Gull tossed the phablet onto the table in front of him and went to buy a packet of potato chips. As he did so, an advert on an interactive notice board beside the vending machine caught his eye. He was in luck. One of the E.R. doctors had a ticket on sale. He would have to move fast, though. At the price the doctor was asking – face value for a quick sale – people would be lining up to buy it. Tucking his potato chips under his arm, he punched out a response on the on-screen keyboard.
Gull received a call from the doctor before he had even sat down. It turned out the man had not yet finished work for the day and wanted to sell him the ticket immediately. Gull agreed, went up to see him, and after a moment’s hesitation when it came to actually transferring the money, the deal was done.
Gull pulled a Kevlar jacket out his closet – glossy black with replica muscles molded into the chest – held it up against himself and then let it fall to the floor. The look was right, but it was too restrictive for dancing.
His gaze shifted to the clock on his bedside table. He’d been doing this for over an hour, but he wasn’t about to stop. Not until he’s found something suitable. He didn’t want Captain Aerial seeing him at the gig and thinking he was some hapless loser.
In the end, he opted for an outfit similar to one he had seen the megastar himself wearing in a photograph once – black cargo pants and a spiky rubber shirt. He nodded in satisfaction as he examined the items in the mirror. Then, he started to look for a pair of shoes.
Gull made sure he got to the arena two hours early, so he wouldn’t end up stuck at the back of the audience, but already, a seething mass of fans were waiting in line outside. By the looks of it, some of them had been there all day. He shook his head as he stepped off the sky-bus and went to join them. How could one man inspire such mania?
He did his best to be polite as a weasely trader in dark sunglasses and a gold medallion sidled up to him and attempted to sell him a souvenir t-shirt. He couldn’t think of anything worse than walking around with a picture of Captain Aerial emblazoned across his front, but he couldn’t say as much. If the fanatical idiots in the line heard him dissing their beloved hero, there was no telling what they would do.
Gull studied the arena as he waited impatiently for the doors to open. Standing in stark isolation on the edge of the city with a rocket-shaped observation tower and colour changing walls, it was a wonder of modern architecture. It had caused controversy when it was being built because of spiralling costs and a succession of missed deadlines, but once it was completed, the public had fallen in love with it. New York had the Statue of Liberty, San Francisco had the Golden Gate Bridge, and they had the Rainbow Arena.
Gull tensed as the crowd began to file inside. A couple in front were staring over their shoulders at him. He fiddled with his phablet self-consciously, trying to focus on a friend’s face looming out of a newly posted hologram. Didn’t they know it was rude to stare? He was just considering slipping back a few places in the line to escape their gaze, when the man – a lanky youth with a Mohican haircut – stepped up to speak to him. “That’s a great face. If I saw you and Captain Aerial next to each other, I don’t think I could tell you apart. How much did it cost you?” Judging by his slurred words, he was more than a little stoned.
“Nothing,” Gull replied irritably. “I was born with it.”
The woman – who was a foot taller and twice the man’s weight with matted dreadlocks – giggled incredulously. “Sure you were, and I’m the Queen of England. Surgery’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know. Not when it’s such a bitching success. Kudos to you for being the biggest Captain Aerial fan here.”
Gull gave a long sigh. There was no point arguing with them. They’d obviously made up their minds about him and nothing he said was going to convince them they were wrong. The best way to deal with people like this was to humour them in their delusions and hope they went away. “Thanks,” he said through gritted teeth. “I do my best.”
He turned away, focusing on the door ahead as the line continued to shuffle forward, but the man stepped back into his eyeline. “Since you are such a dead ringer for Captain Aerial, would you mind posing for a picture with us when we get inside? We’ll make it worth your while with a free beer.”
“I’ll think about it,” Gull replied, dismissing the idea out of hand.
The girl clapped her hands, lips curling upwards in a goofy smile. “Goody! We’ve never hung out with anybody rich before.”
“I’m not rich,” Gull protested.
“You’re rich enough to change your face,” said the man.
Gull rolled his eyes. Could these idiots be any more wrong about him? He forced himself to stay civil as they continued walking, but by the time they reached the door, his patience was wearing thin. Fortunately, he was able to give them the slip during the routine security check.
He paused at one of the bars to buy himself a drink and then proceeded through a doorway to the arena floor. The place was filling up rapidly, but with a little artful maneuvering, he succeeded in pushing his way to the front. Squeezing between two groups of chattering teens, he placed himself directly in front of the safety barrier and looked expectantly at the stage.
He had been there less than five minutes, when the shoving started. Nothing was actually said, but it was clear what was going on – the teenagers to his right thought he was encroaching on their space and were trying to force him to move on. He glared at them out of the corner of his eye, breath coming in sharp bursts. If they thought they could intimidate him, they had another thing coming. The jostling got worse, but still he ignored it. Then it escalated into full-blown ramming. He locked his arms together, clinging tenaciously to the safety barrier, as someone grabbed his shoulder and attempted to haul him backwards. Little shits! He had as much right to be there as they did.
Failing in its objective, the hand was withdrawn, but no sooner had he started to relax, than somebody punched him in the ribs. He stumbled away from the barrier, gasping for breath. A leg shot out behind him and the next thing he knew he was on the ground.
While he was struggling to collect his thoughts, a grizzled face appeared over him. He raised his hands defensively. He needed to take control of this situation or his ass was going to get seriously kicked. He drew back his fist, getting ready to punch the person in front of him, and then lowered it again. It was a security guard. Thank God for that.
With an air of businesslike efficiency, the guard held out his hand to help him to his feet and then froze, a look of disbelief spreading across his face. “What are you doing here? Some kind of audience meet and greet, I guess. Well, if you don’t mind me saying so, it was seriously stupid.”
Gull looked blank. Then, it dawned on him – the man had mistaken him for Captain Aerial. His thoughts began to race. What if he could use his appearance to blag his way backstage? He’d been hoping to get close to his famous counterpart and this was the perfect chance.
The security guard tapped a communicator badge on his shirt and bent his head towards the microphone. “This is barrier security. I need first aiders here pronto.”
Gull thrust out his hand, placing it over the microphone to cut the man off. The fewer people who were involved in this, the more likely his plan was to succeed. “No first aiders. Just get me to my dressing room.” The security guard nodded and helped him to his feet.
Gull smiled as he noticed his teenage assailants being manhandled towards the exit. All’s well that ends well.
The guard hooked an arm around Gull’s shoulders to support him and led him past the barrier to a door at the side of the stage. He pressed his eyes to a retinal scanner on the wall and the door swung open. “Are you sure you aren’t hurt?”
“Only my pride,” said Gull as the guard helped him along a series of corridors into the heart of the backstage area. The corridors were clogged with people, but although a few of them asked him if he was hurt, not one of them challenged him about his right to be there. Like the guard, they all assumed he was their star performer.
Captain Aerial’s dressing room was situated with a group of others not far from the cafeteria. Arriving at the door, which was instantly recognizable thanks to a star shaped identity plaque, Gull stepped away from the security guard and thanked him for his help.
“Think nothing of it,” said the security guard. He turned to go, and then hesitated, looking Gull up and down. “About those first aiders…”
Gull waved his hand dismissively. “Thank you for your concern, but I really am fine. I’m tougher than I look.”
The security guard looked doubtful, but didn’t press the matter. “I’ll be going then. Try and stay out of trouble.” With this, he hurried away.
Gull paused. He should plan out how he was going to play this. Then again, the longer he stood here, the more chance there was of getting caught. Besides, Captain Aerial would be going on stage before much longer. If he was going to do this, he needed to do it now. He checked his appearance with the selfie-cam on his phablet, and then opened the dressing room door.
The room beyond was much as he would have expected – warm and tastefully decorated with a fridge, a clothes rail, a panoramic vanity mirror edged with lights and an en suite shower room. Captain Aerial was sitting in front of the mirror running through some vocal warm-ups.
Gull stepped into the room and closed the door.
Hearing the latch click into place, Captain Aerial leapt to his feet and spun around. “Who the hell are you?”
For a moment, Gull couldn’t speak. This was a pivotal point in his life and he didn’t want to screw it up. “I’m you,” he said at last, taking a step forward. “The you from this universe. Can we talk?”
Captain Aerial looked shocked. “Not a chance. I have nothing to say to you. Besides, I’ve got a show to do.”
He tried to move to the door, but Gull blocked his path. “I just want to know why your life is so great and mine is so crap.”
“The luck of the draw,” said Captain Aerial coldly.
Gull stared at him, all of his anger and resentment bubbling to the surface. “That isn’t good enough!”
Captain Aerial shuffled his feet nervously and reached for a phablet on the table behind him. “It’ll have to be, because your butt is about to be ejected.”
Before he knew what he was doing, Gull had lunged forward and knocked the phablet to the floor. “Guess again.”
“Security!” Captain Aerial shouted, making another dash for the door. “I need help in…”
The words died in his throat as Gull’s fist collided with his face. Gull watched in morbid fascination as he crumpled to his knees, blood gushing from his nose. Suddenly, a terrible thought crept into his mind. What if he were to kill Captain Aerial? The man’s rock and roll lifestyle would be his for the taking. All he need do was hide the body in some parallel universe and nobody would ever know. No! The murder of another human being was wrong.
Except, this wasn’t another human being. It was an alternate version of himself.
He clenched his fists as Captain Aerial began to struggle to his feet. Then he plunged forwards, fastening his hands around the megastar’s throat. He was sick of being the poor reflection. Captain Aerial fought violently as he tightened his grip, but he hardly noticed. He knew what he wanted and nothing was going to stop him getting it. He pressed harder, harder still, smiling as his victim’s windpipe throbbed beneath his fingers.
Captain Aerial thrashed around, eyes bulging. “Let me go… Please… I don’t want to die…”
Gull’s hands tightened. Wretched excuse for a man, begging for his life. You’d never catch him doing that.
Only when he felt Captain Aerial’s body go limp did Gull let go. His hand shifted mechanically around the star’s throat, searching for a pulse. Then, satisfied he was really dead, he punched the air. Yes! Now he was the interdimensional megastar. There were still a few practicalities to take care of, of course – first and foremost the disposal of the body – but these could wait. He wanted to enjoy this moment. He walked to the clothes rail, picked out a trench coat covered in octagonal mirrors. He would look great in this.
He held the coat against himself, only to freeze as the sound of laser fire rang out across the room and a searing beam of energy tore into his stomach. He pressed his hands to it, toppling into the wall. It was agony, like standing under a cascade of boiling oil. He couldn’t stay up right, couldn’t see. He was falling, falling…
Gulliver A. Stanton shoved his laser pistol back into his pocket and closed the dressing room door, looking at the bodies on the floor. How strange that this third version of himself should have made a play for Captain Aerial’s crown on the exact same day as he had. Where had he come from? Had his interdimensional transport device malfunctioned as well, stranding him in this godforsaken reality or was this the Gulliver A. Stanton that belonged here?
No matter. He was dead now, leaving this Gulliver A. Stanton free to start living Captain Aerial’s wonderful life, not to mention giving him the means to return to his own universe. He would be a fool not to learn from the experience, though. It didn’t matter where he went or what he did, he must always remember to watch his back, because as he had seen today, when you were an interdimensional megastar, there was always someone waiting to take your place… literally.
C.J. Carter-Stephenson was born in the United Kingdom. He is currently flirting with careers in acting and writing, while engaging in more mundane jobs to stay afloat on the turbulent sea of life. He has recently completed an MA course in Creative Writing at the University of Southampton, has been a Writers of the Future finalist, and has had three books published by Bonito Books. Other publication credits include stories and/or poems in the following magazines: ‘AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review’, ‘Dark Horizons’ (former journal of the British Fantasy Society), ‘Youth Imagination’, ‘Murky Depths’, ‘The Willows’, ‘Aesthetica’ and ‘Möbius’.