Wherein We Get to the Part Where Creepy and I Found the Creepy and Hatboy Private Investigations Agency, and Segue Neatly Back to the Main Narrative
So then, sometime on Friday two weeks ago although it was difficult to say for sure because of the timezones, everybody had swapped back just as arbitrarily and without warning as they’d swapped in the first place. Nobody had learned anything, and it didn’t seem like anyone had grown as a person. The Event was over … but our job was just beginning.
I’m not sure where the whole ‘soulmates’ idea actually came from. It was one of those fascinating emergent Self-Evident Truths that just seem to suddenly Have Always Been Known. My inner cynic – and I admit it’s not so much an inner cynic as it is Hatboy with a thin coating of starry-eyed but unavoidably sarcastic idealist – leads me to conclude it was a combination of factors.
First, there was the undeniable fact that an awful lot of people had found themselves looking into mirrors on Thursday and seeing a person they found really pretty attractive looking back at them. So call that factor one.
Factor two, for every angry skinhead with a very-recently-developed feather boa phobia / fetish, and every horror-stricken man who’d spent a day as his own teenage daughter, there were thousands of people who had taken stock of their new surroundings and pieced together a bit about the life of which they’d just assumed the driver’s seat, and found it to be fascinating, compelling, and generally appealing. They were seeing, from the inside, a person they had never known they’d always wanted to be, or at least be with.
And factor three was that scarily-blissful minority of people who had found themselves trading places with their own significant others for a day. Wife had woken up in husband’s body, boyfriend had woken up as girlfriend, two boys or two girls had suddenly found themselves occupying the bodies of their long-time secret mutual crushes, and so on. These were, as far as we’d been able to figure out, a tiny fraction of the worldwide cases. Even people swapping places with people they knew was a rarity accounting for less than one percent of The Event’s total effect, and people swapping places with people they were already in relationships with was a rarity within that segment. Still, those happy few were invariably couples that all their friends and family agreed were ridiculously content, well-adjusted and perfectly suited to each other. Couples that people simply couldn’t imagine not being together.
In short, genuine soulmates.
So, specious or not, the fact that those few people had swapped so intimately lent a lot of optimism-driven weight to the idea that all the complete strangers who had swapped were also soulmates … just soulmates who hadn’t had a chance to meet yet. It was fate, serendipity, a flock of mischievous cupids, or – my personal choice – an alien experiment that was in total and utter zqork-you contravention of intergalactic interference laws.
Creepy and I had, through a sequence of amusing coincidences and as a result of our general super-sidekickery, found ourselves in a position to help people who’d returned to their original bodies on Friday two weeks ago with a burning need to track down the person they’d swapped with, but who had failed to make note of anything as simple as their address or contact details. And so Creepy and Hatboy Private Investigations (Soulmates Found, Lives Made Complete, Cold Aching Emptiness Driven Away) was formed. Within a week, we’d received an actual government grant to rent office space, buy computers and other gear to help in our searches, and establish our agency for worldwide communications access. And the calls were pouring in.
 Another source of discomfort for Creepy, and myself if I’m being honest.
I stood up, picked up my notepad and crossed to the map on the wall.
“Benjamin Stanton, from Salisbury, U.K., spent the day in … Washington D.C., U.S.A.,” I said, sticking a pin in the map, “probably as a woman named Glenda Burnside, only he wasn’t sure because she was a hippie of some sort and he – she – was stoned for most of the time and only realised a few days later that it had really happened, and because she – he – suspected someone slipped something into his beer. Her beer? Ugh. His beer. We need some bigger maps of heavily populated areas,” I grumbled, attempting to fit the pin in alongside a half-dozen others. “At least for areas where people seem to be having the most trouble making their own connections,” I pondered for a moment. “It’s interesting, though,” I said. “Stanton got Burnside’s high, which means it’s not even the brains that swapped. No material exchange at all, purely a shift of his consciousness into her stoned physiology. But all his memories and synaptic uniqueness and everything else was tracked across and hooked up perfectly to the other body. And then when he went back to his own physiology, he took the memories – such as they were – and the heightened realism…”
Creepy was about to say something, but the phones rang and he grudgingly picked up the one on his side of the desk.
“Ghostbusters, whaddaya want?”
Of course, there were problems with The Event and the conclusions drawn by the general population. And it wasn’t just the people who’d ended up in what they insisted were the wrong bodies. A not-insignificant fraction of humanity, after all, believed that there was no such thing as a single ideal person for each of us, and that meant relationships were supposed to be a constant effort. Another not-insignificant fraction of humanity believed there were numerous ideal people for each of us, and that the convention of monogamy was outmoded and unnatural.
 Not that The Event in and of itself insisted in any way that such a convention was relevant, as I kept trying to point out to our clients.
I can’t say whether they were right or wrong about any of that, but if The Event was orchestrated by some guiding intelligence, and was intended to match people up with their perfect other halves, then that intelligence obviously thought the objectors were wrong. We had yet to encounter anyone who had been scattered across multiple bodies. And quite a few of our clients were stridently opposed to the idea of settling down with a single person … but were still our clients, on the quiet. You know, just out of curiosity. It doesn’t mean monogamy is a thing. Just that this one person could be, like, their pen pal or something. Whatever.
“Hang on, just because you’re a wealthy socialite and you suddenly wound up as a fat janitor for the day, you don’t want him to contact you? What, am I supposed to lie to him if he calls us? Convince him he didn’t spend a day in Miami…? What…? You do want him to contact you, but you want him to have a shower…? Hold on, hold on, you want us to wire your money to his bank account so he can buy the hygiene products you like? Lady, do we look like a banking and grooming service?”
Still, after two weeks the ‘soulmate’ theory was still the best we had, and the number of happily reunited previously-total-strangers was growing by the hour. Even the outlier cases we’d encountered didn’t so much disprove the assumption, as challenge us to reconsider, in our nasty seething monkey brains, what the concept of a soulmate really was.
Although I admit that in the case of the skinhead, I firmly believe that a good sexing-up from a six-foot-four African-Australian drag queen with both male and female genitalia might be just what the doctor ordered.
I am, after all’s said and done, only human.
So… who did Creepy and Hatboy swap bodies with? Or did they even swap?
No, they didn’t swap with a band from the 1980s. Although I’d be the least surprised person in the world if they had.
But if the world is their dreamscape… maybe they didn’t swap. But if it’s some aki’D storage unit, and not specifically their construct…
I got nothing.
This is the Hatstand. You are absolutely encouraged to overthink it.