This story is by Dave Lerner and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
I watch Lisa stand at the edge of a rooftop of a tall building in the middle of a cold night.
She’s a young dark-skinned woman. Her clothes are cheap and filthy. Her face is tear-streaked, her eyes infinitely sad. She is looking at the street below, trying to find her courage. She speaks into a small metal cylinder.
“August twenty-fourth. Twenty forty-three,” she says. “To whoever finds this: My name is… was… my name was Lisa Donnerman. Doctor Trang, I want you to know that none of this is your fault. I know you tried. I was just beyond anything you could do. Mother, I want you to know that this is your fault. You’re a selfish, uncaring bitch.” I have to agree with that, at least. “I’m just sorry that this won’t cause you nearly as much pain as you’ve caused me. So, fuck you. Goodbye forever. Lisa.”
I’m watching her through a chronovisior. She has no way to know I see her. She drops the cylinder by her feet, grits her teeth, and steps off the rooftop. Her eyes are closed, so she doesn’t see the time distortion when she falls through it.
Lisa lands hard on the platform of the commuter rail station. Hard as if she just fell three or four feet, not several stories. The air’s knocked out of her.
She looks around in shock and wonder. It’s warm, late afternoon/early evening. The sun’s still shining brightly.
I grab her by her arm, pull her to her feet.
Lisa and I are face-to-face. I shush her before she can speak.
“Quiet, Lisa,” I say quickly. “We don’t want any attention. Not yet.” There are plenty of people waiting for the next train, but they pay little attention to us.
“Where am I? What happened? Who are you? Am I… am I dead?”
“All predictable questions. To answer the last and easiest one: No. You are not dead.”
“I know I’m not in hell. If I was, my mother would be here. Just to torment me.”
“If I were in hell. I know you’re not a genius, but try to handle a simple subjunctive mood correctly. There is actually an inaccuracy to one of your statements that you cannot yet appreciate.”
Perhaps I am being harsher than necessary. I realize I need her cooperation. But human interaction is one of the exceedingly few arenas I can not master. Admittedly, my disinterest in the subject hinders me. People should realize what they need to do, and do what is needed.
Lisa was too distracted to see or hear me, anyway. Finally, she looks at me. Really looks at me. “Who are you? You look like me.” That is true. But where Lisa is one of life’s losers, I am a winner. I am well-dressed, well-groomed, hair in an elegant bun. Though I am attired appropriately for this time and place.
“I am Lisa Donnerman,” I say.
“What? But that’s me! Are you saying you’re me?”
“Not precisely. It would perhaps be more accurate to say I’m your sister. Your twin sister. We are closer than dizygotic twins, though not as close as monozygotic. I think of us as monovum-dispermic. Now keep your voice down.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t have a sister. Definitely not a… twin.”
I gesture at the nearby newspaper boxes. “Look at the dates. Now do not panic. If you panic I shall have to hurt you.”
She looks closely at the newspaper. They’re all dated April 7, 2017.
Lisa looks like she’s about to panic. I tighten my grip on her arm enough to make her wince. I let her go.
“This is where it gets tricky,” I say. “Particularly for someone of your limited intelligence.”
“Limited intelligence? Are… you calling me stupid?”
“I am aware that you are slightly higher in intelligence than average. Your IQ is 119. Intelligent quotient measurements are inexact, of course, particularly when dealing with an intelligence such as my own. I’ve developed a more accurate measure, but for your purposes, consider me to have an IQ of well over three hundred and fifty. Stop! Listen to me. I know you want to kill yourself. Well, just do as I say, and you will never have existed. And I will continue to exist. That’ll be better for the both of us.” I point to the device in my hand. “Do you know what this is?”
“That’s an old-fashioned smart-phone.”
“Actually, it’s only disguised as an old-fashioned smart-phone. It bears the same relation to a smart-phone that a smart-phone bears to two paper cups and a length of string.”
“And you invented it?”
“Good. Now you’re beginning to understand. Do you recognize that woman standing over there?”
The woman standing near the platform looks very much like Lisa and me.
“No. Is that… mother!?”
Lisa is about to storm over to mother. Too soon. I slap her face to get her attention. “Yes. That is mother. On her way home from work. This is one possibility. Touch this phone.”
She does. I concentrate, send the images directly to her brain. The train pulls into the station, mother goes home, she and daddy eat dinner, go to bed, fuck…
Lisa pulls her hand away, breaking the connection. The images end.
“Why did you show me that?” she asks.
“That’s your conception. This night you’ll be conceived. Two hundred and sixty-two days later, you’ll be born. Now watch this again.” I press her hand against the phone again. This time as the train pulls in Lisa and I accost mother, prevent her from boarding. Lisa yells incoherently at her. I just watch bemusedly. Lisa assaults mother, hits her. Several people pull her away. She breaks free, runs off. Mother talks to the police. She gets home late. She’s upset. Daddy comforts her. Very late at night they fuck.
Lisa breaks the connection again. “The same thing happened. They still end up having sex.” How can she be so dim? I slap her face again. “Stop hitting me!”
“Stop acting in such a way that I have to hit you. The two acts occurred several hours apart. Do you know anything about human reproduction? A typical ejaculate can contains over 400 million sperm.”
We were so similar, yet so different. “So instead of your sperm reaching the egg, my sperm reaches the egg. Instead of you being conceived, I am conceived. Me. Lisa Donnerman. The smartest person of all time. Lisa Donnerman, scientist, inventor, revolutionary. The Lisa Donnerman. The woman who remade the world.”
“Who asked you to remake the world? Who gave you the right?”
“Nobody gave me the right. I took it. Me. Lessers like you bow before me, as it should be.”
“Lesser? I’m not lesser just because I’m not some sort of super-genius like you.”
“Actually, yes you are. The very fact that you fail to recognize this is further proof of it.”
“You think you know everything! You’re almost as bad as she is!”
“I do know everything.” This was growing tedious. “Listen, fool. The world needs me to exist. Nobody wants you to exist. Not even you.”
“So how? How can you and I both exist? At this time in the past?”
“Time distortions. Side effect of time travel experiments. The original experimenters uncreated themselves, but various paradoxes arose. Not important. Even if you had the intelligence to grasp the math, which you do not, I don’t have the time to teach you. All you need to know is what you must do. And you must perform precisely as indicated. The slightest deviation could result in a different sperm reaching the egg, creating a different person. Perhaps a boy, this time.” If the sperm were a different sperm, but it had the same chromosomes, would the result be the same person? Interesting but irrelevant. The world needs me. I need me.
“I can attack that woman. I hate that bitch. She was a terrible mother. She ruined my life.”
“Fascinating. She was terrible to me, too, but I had assumed that my hyper-intelligence intimidated her. You and I did, however, have radically different childhoods. A unique opportunity to compare nature versus nurture.”
“What did you do to mother? In your reality?”
“Nothing. I can do nothing. She’s too celebrated for being my mother. Now, it’s almost time. Do you know what you must do?”
“It’s time. Go. Go, you stupid bitch! Now! The slightest deviation, remember? GO!!”
Lisa runs over to mother, and, just as the train pulls in, pushes her off the platform so the train hits mother, killing her instantly.
The last thing I see before we both disappear is Lisa smiling at me.