I went to the familymart like she told me to. I grabbed a Snapple and got in line, because I didn’t want to be carrying a lot of stuff in case something happened. The cashier was the same one who’d helped me when I was sick. I wasn’t sure, at first, but he recognized me and asked me how I was doing.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
First he asked the women ahead of me in line whether she was interested in donating anything to a local food drive. She was really rude to him, saying that the reason she came to the familymart in the first place was because they didn’t hustle customers for donations the way supermarket chains have started doing and that she was very disappointed in the way this place was being run. The man apologized, but pointed out that they participated in this drive every year to help stock the local soup kitchen, so this was hardly a new development.
She sniffed and left.
After I told him that I was doing much better, he sheepishly summarized his food drive spiel for me. I asked him what sorts of foods they took, and the instant he said mentioned “canned soup” I realized that I did have a contribution to make.
So after I finish writing this I’ll pack up the excess soup cans and run them over to the familymart. It’ll be nice to not have them cluttering up my cabinets, staring at me accusingly for having no intention whatsoever of eating them.
I flipped through the pages I’ve written on so far, and saw a gold star next to the (2011.10.26 2342) one. That is the sort of thing I’d do to mess with myself.
I feel oddly reassured.
If I am in an unfamiliar place, I can either pay attention to where I am going or to the people in my group, but not both. If I am leading, I know that I am depending on myself to find my way back, and I can remember enough that I can retrace my steps with little difficulty.
If someone else is leading, I will follow them and be utterly unaware of my surroundings. If the leader suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack, I would be completely lost.
I feel like the last couple of weeks have been the latter sort. I do what she tells me to, and I don’t much think about it. Now I am. I still don’t see the point in everything she’s made me do, but today I’ve seen some of it.
Because he went to the conference (the one he was so smug about) in October, he was sent to this other one that’s running this week. The first one was a trade conference; the second one only involves members of the company. He had to give a presentation on stuff he’d learned at the trade conference.
If I’d gone to the trade conference, I would have been the one in Dave’s place. This is obvious.
And if I’d gone to the trade conference, I would have been sent to the company conference that’s being held in San Francisco. The one that was interrupted two days ago by an earthquake they’ve pegged at 8.9 on the Richter scale.
If future-me hadn’t told me to pick up Jen’s kid and if I hadn’t gotten sick I would have been caught in what they’re calling the worst earthquake in US history.
This makes me feel ill. Did future-me know Dave was going to be sent? Did future-me know Dave was going to die? Obviously I wasn’t going to die or else I wouldn’t still be alive enough to come back in time and tell myself not to go. Did my hand get crushed? Did Dave die because future-me doesn’t want to have her hand be crushed anymore? Does time-travel even work like that? If she’d gone back and prevented it, shouldn’t her hand have already been healed?
I feel so confused and guilty, and I can’t even tell anyone.
I’ve thought about it some more and I don’t think this was about the hand. I know nothing about time travel, but if avoiding the earthquake was about the hand, the hand would have already been fixed when she visited me. No, wait. If future-me’s hand was fixed, she would have had no reason to come back and have me avoid the conference in the first place, so I would have gone and….
I give up. I don’t think it’s about the hand, though.
I still don’t understand where the soup and the familymart fit in, unless she was trying to get me to donate some food to karmically offset killing Dave which makes no demonstrable sense. So I still don’t know what’s up with the soup, but I feel really worried about it now.
Future-me just explained the point of these assignments. She said it with a smirk on her face, the kind I might have if I spent a few hundred years more marinating in my own cynicism.
The gold star wasn’t there to mess with me. Not in a playful way. Not in the way I thought. I can’t really explain the difference in intent, only that thinking it means one thing makes me smile and the other thing, the real intent, makes my stomach squirm.
Turns out that I was right about this being an experiment, but I’d guessed the wrong one. Sort of. This one’s two-fold. The second part is a secret only she and her partners know. The first part is like that one experiment they did in the 60’s before they had ethics boards to stop them. The one where the test subject was supposed to electrically shock someone (who was really an actor) every time the other person messed up memorizing a vocabulary list, or something. The actor wasn’t really being shocked. And for every mistake, the voltage was increased until the actor “begged” for the person to stop.
Not many people did. Stop, that is. More than half went right up to the highest voltage. Many of them kept going even after the actor went silent. They did it because a person in a lab coat told them it was ok to keep going.
That’s it. They thought they were inflicting increasing amounts of pain on a person who’d told them he had a dodgy heart, but the lab coat told them it was fine. And they continued. Granted, the lab coat was probably pretty persuasive. He had reasons and assurances and threats. And in the end, the majority did not refuse the lab coat’s authority.
Future-me is a lab coat with a secret agenda. Her and her professors’ ethics board let them do these experiments to their past selves because the future self has given informed consent. And that’s when I finally understand why she started this sadistic lecture by saying that she’s not me. I couldn’t ever imagine this world turning into in a world with ethics as screwed up as hers.
Future-me is not future-me. Future-me is parallel-reality-me. She’d grinned mockingly as she explained why I’d gotten a gold star. It was because I’d given the answer they’d searched numerous realities for. It was because I was perfect; I was gold to them.
I’m an odd one, she says. I feel enough of a kinship to her that I trust her motives to be like mine. However, I also feel disassociated enough from her that when she does something I wouldn’t do, I don’t find it jarring. I think of her as being enough like me, but not exactly like me.
Now I know she’s not me, though. And there’s a good chance that I’ll never be her. I told her desperately that her plan, whatever it was, won’t work anymore, because she can’t use me. She said that’s true; I know the whole plan, so I can’t be unwittingly manipulated.
But that’s the beauty of parallel universes, she’d said, eyes widening with delight as she took in my reaction. Now they knew to hit the ones close to this one, because the other-me’s would be similar enough. That’s why I’m still writing this, while she sits next to me and watches. The experiment isn’t quite done, because there’s the second part.
If the first part worked—if I was malleable enough to do what she told me to with little to no objections—then they’d advance to the information-gathering part. In this diary is all the information they need to bend the similar-me’s to their will. Now they know how I think, the sorts of arguments and persuasions and insinuations that I’ll respond to. They can befriend similar-me and the goldilocks similars of the other project members, convince them of the necessity of whatever bullshit they feed them, and then use the goldilocks ones to drain the parallel-Earths dry.
And it’ll be ok because the lab coats said so.
So I know it’s going to work. Similar-me doesn’t know what she’s up against. This particular parallel-me is ruthless. She’ll do anything to get what she wants. Even lie to me. Especially lie to me.
To similar-me, parallel-me will look omnipotent. She is the giver and the taker of life. She will save similar-me from the horror of the San Francisco earthquake and sacrifice an unloved coworker in her stead.
Parallel-me finds this funny. If the illusions of the past few weeks weren’t eroding sickeningly under my feet as I write, I might also find it funny. I’m enough like her, in that respect. Because, when it comes down to it, her instructions had only really changed one thing in this reality; my thoughts. I wouldn’t have gotten a flu vaccine, because I never bother to get a flu vaccine. I wouldn’t have refused to pick Jen’s brat up from daycare, because I never refuse once she’s got her hooks in me. I would still have gotten sick, but this time I would have gone to the closest supermarket and found that they were out of chicken soup because this strain of the flu’s so virulent that a couple schools closed for a few days due to a lack of healthy teachers. So, annoyed, I would have bought one kind of every soup and then decided that I didn’t feel like eating any of them.
I would still have gone to the familymart, this time because I felt betrayed that the supermarket had run out of chicken soup in my time of need. I would still have overheard the rude customer and then donated the soup cans I didn’t want to eat.
Dave would still have died in the earthquake.
She wanted to see whether I would be gullible enough to give her credit for every co-incidence and lucky break I had in my life. She wanted to see if I was willing to believe that she had a big plan, and that every little thing she told me to do was part of it.
She got her answer.
She must be reading what I’m writing out of the corner of her eye, because she sees that I’m getting near the end and she says she’s got a freebie for me.
“You know that flu?” She says. Of course I know. I nod sullenly. My leg throbs from when she kicked me because she thought I was adding too many irrelevancies to this entry. “It’s really virulent, but not very lethal. Well, next season it’s going to join forces with some sort of avian flu, and that fucker’s gonna be deadly.”
She studied the look on my face, and then shrugged. “What’re you so down about? At least we’re not going to make this-you run for president.”
Pissed at this frivolity, this careless regard for all the similar-me’s out there, I searched for something that would kill her buoyantly manic mood. I wanted to find something about her that was absolutely real; something that would wound. Had she ever shown me any real vulnerability? I needed to needle her like she was needling me.
So I asked her what was up with her hand. Her face slackened for a split second, and then she grinned and leaned close.
“What, this?” She asked, waving the mangled thing in my face, eyes glinting demonically. “I could have this fixed any time I want. But I’ve found, it’s great for getting cooperation from you guys. You fixate on it. You imagine all sorts of tragic events in my past and, even more importantly, in your future. You think that I might be a little bit broken, but that’s ok, because obviously I’m going to make sure whatever it is doesn’t happen to you. God and guardian angel all rolled into one.”
Her flippancy should surprise me, but I think I’m past surprise by this point. She pouts a bit when I don’t say anything.
“You’re not gonna ask me how it happened? You don’t wanna know?”
That’s when I jammed my pen into her throat. She was still close enough that I hadn’t had to worry too much about my aim. Now I’m writing with another pen. I know nothing about the anatomy of the neck, but she’s making pretty convincing gurgling sounds as she writhes there on the floor. I’d better search her and check that she doesn’t have any pens of her own that she’s going to stab me with. I think I’ve just proved that I have no problems with stabbing myself with improvised weapons, after all.
Oh good, it sounds like she’s stopped mov—