This story is by Tara Lieb and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Medical Wing, Secret Government Compound
“What’s this?” Dr. Patel asked Dr. Bergman as he handed her a thick envelope.
“Everything you’re not supposed to know about your job. We’ll meet tomorrow. Destroy everything after you read it,” he said on the way out of her office.
Dr. Patel locked her office door and opened the envelope. She found psychological profiles of thirty-eight “subjects”, all clones of deceased American presidents, and a list of doctors who’d cared for them. The doctors of the first fifteen subjects had been “terminated”, as their patients had already been sent on their “missions”. Her stomach dropped to her knees. Sixteen would be sent on his mission soon.
Another file contained a schematic labeled “time machine”, along with overviews of each subject’s mission upon being sent to the past to replace various American presidents. The last file described Dr. Bergman’s background as a psychologist, and his evaluations of the various subjects’ mental health.
The next day, Dr. Patel appeared nonchalant, but she felt like she was having a heart attack when she heard Dr. Bergman’s voice over the intercom, summoning her to his office.
“Why did you accept the job?” asked Dr. Patel, grabbing a chair.
“I thought, better me than someone who doesn’t have a problem with what they’re doing. I waited for an opportunity to free the clones somehow, but it never came. Then doctors started disappearing, most of them turning up in the morgue as ‘John’ or ‘Jane Doe’,” he said.
“Why are you telling me this now?”
“If you read the files, you know you’re next. I care about you. And Sixteen, even more than the others. I have to help him. And I can’t let them kill you. Although, if the plan works, we might all be erased anyway.”
“What’s the plan?” she asked.
“I’m still working on it.”
1865, Lincoln’s Bedroom
Sixteen materialized in a closet, overwhelmed with pain. He recalled the last few minutes, waiting for the doctor to leave.
His handler shot him in the abdomen, then explained that he was to replace President Lincoln. The clone of an actor from that period was sent one day further into the past. He’d shot Lincoln, providing opportunity for Sixteen to dispose of him without resistance, and generating the sympathy necessary for people to support Sixteen in the unthinkable changes he would make to their government. Upon arrival, Sixteen was to inject himself with the syringe in his left pocket. It contained nanites programmed to begin healing the gunshot wound he’d received for authenticity. His right pocket contained a syringe filled with nanites programmed to dissolve Lincoln’s corpse without a trace.
The doctor pronounced Lincoln dead and left. Sixteen came out of the closet. He injected the syringe from his left pocket into Lincoln, the other into himself. Lincoln opened his eyes.
“Just a bad dream,” said Sixteen, dissolving before Lincoln’s eyes like a vapor.
Sixteen awoke with a jolt. “Not again,” he thought.
“It’s a recurring dream,” he told Dr. Bergman the next morning. “It started before they told me about my mission. It feels like it actually happened.”
“Maybe it has,” said Dr. Bergman, “Why did you inject yourself with the destructive nanites? I understand giving the healing nanites to Lincoln, but you didn’t have to die.”
“It seemed the best way to make it as if I’d never been there. I disappear, and he thinks it was just a fever dream.”
“I don’t want you to die. And I’m not sure that would solve anything. They could send more clones. We need to stop this project before it starts.”
“I’ve got it,” said Dr. Patel.
“Please, come in. Don’t be shy,” said Sixteen.
“I’ll miss your sarcasm,” said Dr. Patel. “I have an idea. You need to tell Lincoln everything. And get as many trustworthy people as possible to help you fight until these people give up.”
They argued at first. They wanted to change the past as little as possible. She pointed out that there would be interference with the past regardless of what they did. It was no longer about preserving the past, but about stopping the government, by any means necessary. Even if that meant changing the course of history.
“I’m going back tomorrow,” said Sixteen. “You’ll be terminated soon.”
“I know,” said Dr. Patel.
“I’ll get you out,” said Dr. Bergman.
“How?” she asked.
“Someone owes me a favor.”
The next morning, armed guards came for Sixteen. They never saw him again.
“I hope he’s okay,” said Dr. Patel.
“Me too. Let’s get you out of here. I’ll meet you in three days.”
Same Day, Different Timeline
“Dr. Bergman?” the beautiful woman asked.
“Call me Isaac,” said Dr. Bergman, straightening his tie. “Do I know you?”
“Yes and no. I’m Asha Patel. Here,” she said, handing him an unsealed envelope. “I’ve already read it.”
She started to walk away.
“Can I call you?” he asked.
“I’d like that,” she said.
“Can I have your number?”
“It’s in the envelope,” she said, smiling.
Dr. Bergman opened the envelope. Inside was Dr. Patel’s phone number (“Yes!!”), and a very old letter. He carefully unfolded the fragile paper.
“Dear Drs. Bergman and Patel, you shouldn’t remember me…”
Sixteen described everything following his arrival in 1865. Thanks to a reluctant demonstration involving nanites and a rat, Lincoln believed everything Sixteen said. Together, they convinced the newly formed secret service, and as many trustworthy people as they could find. After many years, and much loss, the resistance breathed a well-deserved sigh of relief, as the final intruder from another time breathed his last.
“…I am more blessed than I ever imagined. I married the love of my life, and we have four wonderful children. As a parting gift, I offer a piece of advice. Get reacquainted. I’ve always thought you seemed perfect for each other. Thanks for everything. I’ll always think of you as my first family.
Your Friend across Time,
Samuel Patel Bergman