When the theme was first announced I had been playing around with revisiting a story I'd been writing about a year ago. One of the main characters of this story was an otherwise unremarkable guy who moved around a lot while growing up and whose parents mysteriously changed identities with each move. Somehow this seemed to fit well with the vibe of Danny Cobb, man of mystery, and the lines "Danny Cobb was my father. Or rather I should say, my father was Danny Cobb, for a time." came naturally.
My original idea was a three-part story that I would title "Triptych" in a blatant play for the muchagecko vote. The first part would be the incident where the narrator moves to a new town and his father, having assumed the identity of Daniel Cobb, gets thrown for a loop when everyone has a very definite idea of who Danny Cobb is, and he for sure isn't it. In part two, years later, our narrator is a teenager and the real Danny Cobb gets him out of a fix. In the third and final part, the narrator is a grown man and has the opportunity to help out someone who's young and foolish, just like he once was. As he's about to vanish into the night, the younger man asks his name, and he replies knowingly, "Danny Cobb." That structure wasn't bad, but I got stuck on the details of the second and third sections. Thinking back on it now, this version would probably have been more like what Scrymarch called a "gee thanks Superman" story than where I ended up.
During the months before the deadline I wrote a bunch of random sketches during Sunday writing sessions but they didn't really go anywhere. Meanwhile, the overall concept of Danny Cobb continued to tumble around in my head. It became clear to me that Danny Cobb must be a pan-dimensional being, which accounts for how he manages to be everywhere at once (if the tales are to be believed — and why wouldn't they?) And meanwhile, via Twitter I found out about the Inter Dis-Communication Machine, which (a) was too cool not to write about and (b) sounded like exactly the kind of thing pan-dimensional Danny Cobb would/could do, only so much better because he wouldn't need the clunky goggles, of course.
So putting all this together, I finally hammered out the story. The word count blew past 3000 words the first time through, and even though I cut almost 10% it's probably still a little too long. The character I borrowed for my narrator turned out a little differently from his earlier incarnation, like an alternate universe (or maybe pan-dimensional) version of himself, which I don't entirely dislike. In the comments to the voting story Scrymarch called it an origin story, and a "personal picture of the childhood of a supernatural army brat" which somehow manages to capture the spirit of the story without being quite what I intended. It might be an origin story (or really more a pre-origin story), but it's not exactly Danny Cobb's origin (or is it?). And Wesley is neither supernatural (at the time of the story's events) nor precisely an army brat, but it hardly makes any difference to the overall vibe of the narrative.
256 rightfully pointed out that there are lots of unresolved loose ends in the story that detract from it, and I have to plead guilty to sloppy storytelling that he called me on.
What did Wesley's father do and for whom? And what did it have to do with the real Danny Cobb? Did Wesley's dad's boss set him up to impersonate the real Danny Cobb? Or was it just a coincidental namespace collision?
The question of what Wesley's father is really up to is a huge, gaping hole, and I have to confess that the reason it's not well explained in the story is that I don't have a very clear idea myself. (This part of Wesley's backstory was somewhat tangential to the original narrative I pulled him from, and this was in part an exercise to explore that further, but I didn't quite unearth the entire picture.) I'm actually not convinced that his dad actually has a boss; I think his parents are more like freelancers, or part of a loosely organized set of covert activists or something. Yeah. That needs work. And I'd intended it to be a coincidence that the arbitrary identity that he adopted was Danny Cobb's, which is another flaw that came from trying to smash these two stories together. They just happen to overlap because I put them together, not for any compelling story reason.
And what made Wesley special? His father wasn't the real Danny Cobb, so how did he get his powers?
There are hints that Wesley has some skills — not necessarily supernatural ones, but useful ones like being about to read between the lines of a conversation, or being able to quickly get the lay of the land. And perhaps he inherited (or was forced to develop) some of his father's facility with adapting to new circumstances and talking his way into or out of situations. None of this in and of itself makes him much of a candidate for Danny Cobb, particularly. But given Cobb's all-knowing transtemporal gaze, perhaps there's a defining moment later in his life that marks him for a greater destiny. After all, at the time of the story, he's not ready yet; it's the coincidence of his father's adopted name that makes their paths cross earlier than the might have.
D suggested that Wesley and Danny Cobb are really one and the same, that "Danny Cobb" comes to visit his former self, before he became what he is. I think it's an interesting idea except for the time-travel circularity that it implies. Also, it's Strange Horizons' Story We've Seen Too Often number 20b. I prefer to think that Wesley is simply Danny Cobb's successor, chosen to take over the mantle of ... whatever it is that Danny Cobb does, after Danny has had enough of doing it for a while, and he doesn’t really have any extraordinary powers until Cobb comes back later. But the relationship between the two of them could certainly be made clearer.
The thing I'm most proud of with "The Two Danny Cobbs" is that it is not a love story. Of all my WFC entries, I think this is the only one without a whiff of romance or the conspicuous absence thereof. There are parents in this story, but everyone knows that parents have nothing to do with romance or any of that icky stuff. If I'd gone ahead with my original approach, chances are that the Danny Cobb-comes-to-the-rescue scenes would have had something to do with a girl. I think the story I actually wrote is better.
AS I DID LAST TIME I made an annotated-with-too-much-information version of the story. It's part author's commentary and editor's hindsight with a sliver of stealth Kellnerin-diary. Like the commentary track on a DVD, it's probably better if you read the story by itself straight through first.
ON A DIFFERENT NOTE, here's a story I recently stumbled upon that happens to intersect with several WFC themes (though not this most recent one). By my reckoning, it wouldn't have been out of place in WFC2, 5, 6, 7, or 9. I wonder if there's a Husian out there secretly selling stories to online speculative fiction mags.
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