I was driving down the A49 towards my Hereford home, and as had become more and more frequent, my concentration was lapsing. I was, also as usual, contemplating my life and how I'd managed to fail at all the important bits.
I had recently turned sixty and had been reflecting ever since. I had been married for almost twenty years and divorced almost as long. I was shocked when my wife had told me that she no longer loved me, in fact she was sure if she ever had. She liked me, like me quite a lot, but that was as far as it went.
I on the other hand, loved her, loved her with a passion that twenty years separation had hardly quelled. After a hellish year when I tried to come to terms with events, we split. For all my love, I just couldn't live with that knowledge and she could no longer put up with my moods.
It was only in hindsight that I realised that I'd been a crap husband and rather poor father. I'd been selfish, unintentionally, but selfish none the less. I won't go into details because it would depress me, and no doubt you too. I came to the conclusion that I was extremely lucky that my marriage had lasted as long as it had.
One part of the problem was that I was the first of my peers to get married and all my friends would be around wanting me to join them in all their bachelor activities. Not yet used to married life, I accepted far too often. Another part could be seen in my view to sports. I tried to partake in everything that interested me, football (of the associated variety), distance running (even doing a couple of marathons), swimming, cycling, squash and even a dabble at Gaelic Football. That was just the active ones, throw in others like snooker, and you can guess that I wasn't home as often as I should have been.
My wife was a good one, kept my house and kids in tip-top condition, looked after me as best she could. The sex wasn't brilliant, but hindsight's twenty-twenty vision says that was mainly down to me too; more selfishness. She didn't fool around, or even nag too much, despite my abhorrent behaviour. Perhaps, if she had, then I could have changed in time. Then again, maybe I was too blind to see.
That all the physical activity contributed to my marriage break-up was only part of the story; they also took a large toll on my body. My knees, ankles and back were all shot, leaving me to lead a very sedentary lifestyle, a boring one too.
My occupation was that of Computer Programmer, working as a contractor to larger, usually Blue Chip, companies. Just short of three years ago, I'd had stomach problems and required an extensive stay in hospital, whilst the specialists took turns to tell me what wasn't wrong with me. Most, though not all, agreed that it was something in my diet, but no one knew quite what. Eventually, without ever achieving an accurate diagnosis, it cleared up of its own accord and I was returned to the real world. It took another month or so before I was ready to start a new contract. Technology had moved on and my expertise in Winforms was not in demand as much; everything seemed to be switching to the Web. Add my age and time out to that equation and work dried up completely.
No income, and because I had some savings, though not much, I wasn't entitled to any unemployment pay. I'd worked all my life, paid all taxes and national insurance, yet wasn't entitled to a penny. Others, who'd never worked a day in their lives, lived comfortably off the state – something else to be grumpy about.
That brings me to why I was on the A49 at this particular time. A few months ago I'd noticed a growth in one of my testes. I found myself surprisingly happy, now I could forget about having to scrimp and save for the future. I'd put off visiting the doctor until I was certain that the growth was genuine and that it was growing. Within two days of the visit, I was under the knife having the offending lump removed, along with the testicle it was attached to. I'd just been to see the consultant about the biopsy done to the lump.
"Just as we expected, the growth is benign," Mr. Crane had told me. When I queried the 'expected' bit, he added. "Yes, you are really too old for testicular cancer."
'Too old, ' I thought, 'I can't even do that right.'
The next thing I remember is entering Hereford Town Centre, which meant that I'd driven around thirty miles on autopilot, with no recollection at all. I became determined to maintain concentration for the last couple of miles at least. I even managed to fail that, for suddenly I saw bright lights before almost immediate blackness.
I awoke with an amazingly clear head. At first glance, it appeared that I was in hospital, but it soon became apparent that if that was the case, then it wasn't a NHS one; everything was far too clean and uncluttered. I was the sole occupant of a large room, whose dominant colour was a bluish silver.
"How are you?" I heard a monotone voice ask.
I looked around, but saw nobody. I tried to replay the voice, so as to determine a direction but it seemed to emanate from all directions. I made the assumption that for some reason someone was addressing me through an intercom system.
After a brief check of my body, I answered. "I'm fine, or at least I feel fine. I am in no pain..."
I stopped suddenly as I realised just how accurate that statement was. I felt no pain, nor any discomfort for that matter. It had been years, even decades, since I could have said that. I moved my lower body slightly and could feel nothing remotely uncomfortable, even my recent operation was giving no ill effects. My first thought was drugs, but I felt too clear headed. My next thought was of time.
"How long have I been here?" I asked automatically. "For that matter, where is here?"
The same, almost mechanical, voice answered. "You have been here for ... three weeks."
I wondered momentarily at the pause, but the next statement made everything else irrelevant.
"You are in the Medical bay of our ... what you would call a space craft."
'Okay, ' I thought, ' you are clearly dreaming, so play along. Nothing can happen in a dream.'
It didn't really occur that dreams were never that clear or contiguous.
We then talked of why I was there, or I listened whilst the walls spoke. I had been about to die, in a car accident, when something from the space craft had deigned to intervene. Who or what had not been made clear, nor the why for that matter.
Eventually, I began to accept that this just might be for real. I had a moment of fleeting panic, before realising that they had shown no malice to me, at least as yet. Just as that realisation hit me, a door, one that I had not known was there, opened. A humanoid creature entered. Around half my height and a dirty brownish red in colour, it had discernible facial features, though it could never pass as anything from Earth.
"Hello!" It said. "I am Sam, or at least that is what you may call me."
"Hi. I'm David."
"Yes I know."
"Then you must know why I am here." I stated strongly.
I noticed that, unlike the earlier voice, this one spoke with the normal intonations one would expect.
"And are you going to enlighten me."
The facial expression changed, though I couldn't tell what it portrayed.
"You were about to die and we needed someone with your skills, so we brought you here moments before the impact that would have killed you."
"Won't people notice?"
"Not at all. We placed a clone in your stead."
I shook my head, as this was beyond surreal. "If you can create my clone, why do you need me?"
"We can create a carbon copy of you, that is with every atom identical to your own. We cannot however create that mystical spark that is life."
Somehow that made sense. "So what do you require my skills for?" I asked. Judging by their technology, I couldn't believe they required a computer programmer of my average ability.
"We are conducting an experiment. We have come across a planet almost identical to yours, at least in composition. With a little help it was seeded and has now reached the stage your Earth was around ten thousand of your years ago. I am part of the team that have been given the job of selecting around a hundred modern humans to drop onto this new planet. They will be placed well apart so the chances of meeting are infinitesimally small. We will then monitor how your different cultures relate to the indigenous population.
You have been selected as a representative of a male Caucasian. We have monitored your skills, along with those of your comrades and feel they more than match what we require."
"I think you've got the wrong man then." I laughed. "I have no skills that could be transferred to ... well anywhere, certainly not some Neolithic world. Not only that, I have no interest in even trying to find out."
"What do you mean? You are a warrior, amongst the best in the world from what we could discern."
"Nope! As I said, wrong guy. I am a computer programmer and only an average one at that."
"Surely you are David MacMaster, Sergeant in the Special Air Services."
I laughed. "You must be joking. I'm David Powell, IT geek. The nearest I get to being SAS is living in Hereford, home to the 22nd Regiment."
He suddenly changed colour, losing all of his red hue, before turning and rushing out of the room.
I couldn't help but smile to myself. Even when something interesting does happen to me, it's because of mistaken identity.
Some time latter Sam returned, along with another almost identical figure. "It appears that the team in charge of extracting you from the accident chose the wrong vehicle. David MacMaster was driving the other vehicle."
"The point is now immaterial. You are here, he isn't." Stated the second being. "You will take his place. We have already enhanced your body. You will now prepare a list of items that you require to take with you."
"What do you mean no. I order it."
"Order what you like, I'm not going to any backward planet. I wouldn't survive five minutes. I've never even been camping, let alone some survival course."
"In that case we will return you to your car just prior to the accident."
"You can't. If you could, you would have already done so, and had the right man here. Not that I'm too bothered if you could." I replied.
"We will just have to decease you."
"You mean kill me. I'm fine with that, I didn't have much to live for anyway."
"The ethics team will not allow that." The monotone voice of the room stated.
More colour changes, this time the second creature's redness was increasing. "Then we'll send you as you are to blah!"
He/it didn't actually say blah, but it was equally meaningless.