The Man Who Was Made A People

Gregory has two million evil twins. None of them is a person, but why would anybody care?

They are everywhere except in the world. They search the web, click on ads, make purchases, create profiles, favorite things, post comments. Being bots, they don't sleep or work; they do nothing but what they were programmed to do, hidden deep in some endless pool of stolen computing power they have been planted in like dragon's teeth.

They are him. Their profiles carry his name, his location, his interests, or variations close enough to be indistinguishable to even the most primitive algorithm. The pictures posted by the bots are all of men very similar to Gregory in skin tone, clothes, cellphone, car. And he knows they are watching him, because when he changes how he looks, they change as well.

They are evil. Most of their online activities are subtle mirrors of his own, but some deal with topics and people that most find abhorrent, and none more than himself. Violence, depravity, every form of hate and crime, and — worst of all — every statistically known omen of future violence and crime.

Driven by the blind genius of predictive algorithms, sites show Gregory increasingly dark things to look at and buy, and suggest friendships with unbalanced bigots of every kind. His credit score has crumbled. Journalism gigs are becoming scarce. Cops scowl as they follow him with eyes covered by smart glasses, one hand on their guns and the other on their radios. He no longer bothers to check his dating profile; the messages he gets are more disturbing than the replies he no longer does.

He has begun to go out less, to use the web through anonymizing services, to take whatever tranquilizers he can afford. All of those are suspicious activities on their own, he knows, but what choice does he have? He spends his nights trying to figure out who or what he offended enough to have this all-too-real curse laid upon him. The list of possibilities is too large, what journalist's isn't?, and he's not desperate enough to convince himself there's any point to seeking forgiveness. He's scared that one day he might be.

Gregory knows how this ends. He has begun to click on links he wouldn't have. Some of the searches are his. Every night he talks himself out of buying a gun. So far.

He has begun to feel there are two million of him.

.finis.