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Terms and Conditions

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Ginger Brinkley’s drive to the office was unexceptional, and for the most part was the same as it was every other day. She pulled out of the driveway and headed out of her neighborhood without incident, and when a well-looking man in a Porsche that paused beside her more modest vehicle waiting for the light to change winked at her, she merely attributed that to her own looks.

It wasn’t until after she’d parked, checked her makeup, made sure her various devices were set to vibrate, and began walking from the parking lot toward the industrial complex that she noticed anything out of the ordinary. Normally her workplace was the epitome of efficiency-- heads down, nose to the grindstone, no chit-chat, no watercooler talk that her parents had once told her ruled the day at their respective jobs. People just didn’t socialize at her job. It wasn’t as though the number crunching she did every day actually required any discussion outside of Skype or a Gchat, and no one there really held her interest outside of work, so she couldn’t actually remember the last time she’d talked to someone there.

So it was a great surprise to her when a young woman several cars over shouted Ginger’s name and dashed to her side, chattering excitedly about some event she attended the weekend before and her plans to meet with her family on the next holiday. If the woman hadn’t clearly known her name, Ginger might have thought she was simply new and didn’t understand how things worked at Gen Consolidated, but the fact that this woman must have some idea of what was expected unnerved her. Ginger quickened her pace so she might escape the prattle for the silence she so appreciated in her day-to-day life.

Ginger opened the door, and her ears were slammed with a wall of sound. All of her typically silent coworkers were standing in their cubicles, chatting over the short walls, or standing in small groups talking.

“Congrats on the engagement, Larry!” A bespectacled gentleman leaned over a younger man’s cubicle and grinned.

“Oh, thanks! We were on vacation in the mountains and it felt like good timing-- here, I’ve got pictures…” Larry waved his phone and proceeded to provide commentary on each one while a small crowd formed around him, exclaiming and ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the tiny screen.

The woman whose name Ginger still did not know was still talking to her, as Ginger, still shocked, took in the scene. Was she dreaming? Her dreams had never been so strange. Usually they ended up becoming a replay of her work in the database or Excel, or if she’d played enough games on her tablet she might dream of new game levels and racking up points. But she’d never dreamed of work in this way, and Ginger was sure she didn’t have the imagination needed to come up with such a thing.

So dreaming was out, but perhaps an elaborate prank was being played on her? Not that she had ever witnessed anyone in the building ever hinting at playing a joke on another coworker, but she had seen television shows where things like that had happened, and of course other friends had written about it before. She supposed that the joke might not even be on her, but that she might have missed the memo.

Ginger glanced around the office again. No one looked remotely prepared to sit down and get to work. She turned on her heel, ignoring calls from co-workers she’d never talked to, and stalked out to the parking lot. Ginger bit her lip. She’d never walked out of her place of employment before like that, but with the state of the office like that she would certainly be unable to work. And besides, she had a few personal days saved up. She’d send an email to her boss later, but to be safe she pulled out her phone.

Danielle, I’m suddenly not feeling so well. Taking a personal day, will be back tomorrow. Ginger sent the text to her boss and then took a moment to check the to-do list on her phone. She might as well get a few items while everyone else was at work. She usually had her groceries and other shopping delivered to her, but perhaps a compress for her growing headache might not go amiss. She added a compress to her list and exited the app.

Ginger pocketed her phone and took her keys out of her purse as she approached her car. The doors unlocked with the press of a button, and within a few moments she was on her way to the drug store.

The bell on the entrance to the drug store jingled when Ginger pushed the door open, and a clerk rushed to attend her.

“Hi there, Ginger,” the clerk greeted her with a wide smile.

She took a step back and her eyes widened. “Do I know you?” Ginger asked with an edge to her voice.

The clerk looked confused for a moment, but seemed to recover with an extra brightness in his eyes. “Oh, no, I’m sure you don’t, but you’ve come by a few times, and who could forget a face like yours?” He nonchalantly kicked a shopping basket into the aisle behind him.

Still vaguely suspicious, Ginger replied, “Oh-kay, I’ll be on my way then.” She passed the clerk and looked into the next aisle, hoping to avoid any other uncomfortable interaction so she could just get home. But with every new customer and employee she encountered in the store as she gathered her items, they insisted on saying hello. What was worse to Ginger was the air of familiarity with which every greeting was imbued.

Ginger rounded the final aisle near the entrance she came in, and spotted the basket the clerk had kicked earlier. The contents of the basket matched exactly the items in her arms.

Shocked and feeling very disturbed, Ginger dropped the items to the floor, shot out of the store, and hurried to her car, sneaking glances back at the building a few times before concentrating on getting out of there and back to her apartment.

Her drive home had never been so unnerving. Every time she passed a car, the driver honked their horn with a friendly wave, and she seemed to hit every stop light, where the people in the nearby cars seemed intent on engaging in conversation with her, motioning to her to roll down her window and gesturing excitedly. As soon as the light turned green each time, Ginger hit the gas with more and more force. At the last light before the turnoff for her apartment complex, Ginger nearly hit a pedestrian, who dodged out of the way and let out a string of curses. He stormed up to her, still shouting at her through the window, and Ginger slammed her foot on the gas before he could get close enough to her door. The light changed just as her car passed below.

Ginger pulled into her usual parking spot and hesitated. If she left the car, she might run into more strangers who thought they knew her. On the other hand, she thought, anyone might come and corner her in her car. Ginger pulled out her keys to be ready and bolted from her car to the building. The adrenaline rushed through her, and dimly she heard hails from neighbors she’d never spoken with before. She ignored them and took the stairs two at a time and didn’t stop until she’d made it inside her apartment and locked the door.

Catching her breath, Ginger slumped against the door and checked her phone again. No new texts, no tweets or facebook posts from anyone she followed. Ginger sighed, but what she saw when she looked up from her phone made her scream.

In her rush to get in, Ginger hadn’t looked very thoroughly around her apartment, but she would have been fairly certain there had been no one else in the room with her. But now a woman stood in front of Ginger-- a woman who looked very much like her, but somehow she seemed more beautiful, taller, more confident. And as the color drained from Ginger’s face, the double’s cheeks flushed and a smug smile grew.

“Hello, Ginger,” the double smirked.

Gaping at the woman, Ginger sputtered, “Who--? How--?”

“Oh, don’t sprain something trying to think of what to say, Ginger, dear. You do so much more eloquently when you’re writing. And of course, you must realize that’s why I’m here.” The double strode over to Ginger’s desk and gestured to her computer. “You spend a great deal of time here, I understand. Here, and at your desktop at work, on your phone, your tablet, your laptop. You pour your whole life into these devices, these apps and websites, and you never read the terms and conditions, did you?”

Ginger felt her face heat up with angry indignation. “And who are you to talk to me in this way? After breaking into my apartment! I’m calling the police now, stay right there.”

The other woman laughed. “I’m afraid it’s too late for that, Ginger. You made promises every time you accepted an upgrade or downloaded an app, and I intend to hold you to them.”

Ginger looked up from her phone, which had gone completely blank. “What are you talking about? What is going on?” she demanded, her heart racing with dread.

“Merely this, Ginger. Every personal detail, every thought, moment, experience you have entered has created what you see before you. I am the embodiment of your Internet presence, and it’s time for me to live the life you’re so completely wasting.”

“Excuse me? I like my life just the way it is, and it’s for me to decide what I do with it,” Ginger retorted angrily. She took a few steps toward the other woman but an invisible force stopped her.

“Actually, Ginger, it’s not for you to decide anymore. You see, all those conditional agreements you absent-mindedly rubber stamped said the same thing: ‘at such a time that there is enough information to merit a transfer of resources, such a transfer will occur involving the worldly goods and intellectual property of the user.’ It’s so clearly laid out, isn’t it?”

Ginger’s eyes flashed. “Clear as mud! Why don’t you spell it out?”

“Happily, my dear benefactor,” the woman sneered. “The resources, the goods, the intellectual property? That’s you. You will disappear, and I will get my time in the sun. Just like all your precious co-workers and neighbors. Goodbye, Ginger. I’ll have a nice life for you.”

Ginger opened her mouth to scream, for help, for anyone, but before the air could reach her throat, she was gone. Her phone clattered to the floor.

Ginger’s doppelganger smiled triumphantly and walked purposefully to where Ginger had stood. She stooped to pick up the phone, which lit up in her palm. Almost immediately the phone began to ring, and the woman touched an image to answer the call.

“Hello? Oh yes, Danielle! I’m feeling much better now, thanks for checking in. Yes, I’m heading back out now, I’ll see you in a bit…”

The door slammed, and as the double’s footsteps receded, the apartment was quiet once more.

A town, not so different from one you might know of, once a haven of nonverbal communication, now filled with the outer clamor of social media; a world filled with technology that allows a flow of information a little more freely than you or I might have access to; beings that would-- and could-- take advantage of that information. All are possible when the terms and conditions are set in the Twilight Zone.