Author’s note: despite sharing the same name the characters of Zoe and Robin are most definitely not me.
She was lucky that I even answered the phone.
“Hello,” I said, still half asleep and squinting at the bright column of light pouring in through the window.
“Now listen to me very carefully because it is damn hard to make a call like this,” her voice cut sharply through the background static, “You’re me, and I’m you but from a world where things go just a little bit differently. Meet me tomorrow night by the lake, at the spot 8:30pm.”
It had been in the news, parallel universes, a world where COVID never happened, a world where Seattle had been completely destroyed, among an endless list of others. There were reports of people crossing over between universes. Some governments of different universes had banned interactions between them, but with if stories from various corners of the internet were to be believed, interactions still occurred.
It could be a fake. She didn’t even sound like me. It was highly illegal, and she’s told me over the phone. Of course I went anyway.
The spot, a little tucked away corner off from the trail where the roots of a fallen tree created a tiny cavern. There she was standing by the side of the lake. I’d guessed from her voice, but by her appearance it seemed pretty clear that unlike me she’d been born female. I realized I didn’t really know her gender. Her hair was lighter than mine, and cropped pretty short. Her hoodie had a lived-in look to it. She had the same nose, the same eyes, all the same features as me.
“Hello,” I said
“You go by Zoe, right?” she looked hard at me. Something about the phrasing bothered me a little, and I realized I really didn’t know what she thought about me being trans, or what transness looked like in her world.
“Yeah, Zoe’s my name.”
“Mine’s Robin, picked it out myself. Trust me our parents aren’t any better at girl’s names.” I wondered how much she knew about me, or how much she could infer.
“How did you get here?” I asked
“Megan’s lab has approval for some cross universe research.” I felt a knot in my throat, the Megan I knew had dropped out of college due to PTSD, and was unemployed living with her boyfriend. Was my life the only difference between our worlds? Had I unwittingly set Megan’s life on a course for disaster? But I pushed those thoughts down.
“Is that why you’re here, for some kind of research?”
“Nah,” she glanced sideways out at the lake, “I’m here because I need you to help me with something,” which was a totally reasonable thing to say had it not been immediately followed by “I need you to kill someone for me.”
“What?” I said and almost stumbled backwards.
“Its the perfect plan. While I’m at work surrounded by people, you go into my universe, you kill Kayla Watson, you come back. I know you’re smart enough to figure out how. You don’t even know her in your world. In return, I’ll kill somebody that you want dead. No motive, no traces. She held up her hand, we even have different fingerprints.”
“I…” She was right, there were people I wished were dead, but actually doing it was something else.
“Ryan, I could kill him for you. We both know the world would be better off without that piece of shit.”
There was a long pause. “I won’t do it. You’re right, I do wish that Ryan was dead, but actually killing someone, I don’t know if I have that in me. I don’t know if I could live with it.”
“Would it be easier if I told you why Kayla deserves death?”
“I don’t know, I don’t think so. This, this is all so much.” I was shaking a little bit.
“I thought you’d understand,” she said.
“I think I do understand,” I heard myself say, “But-”
“Then you know what to do. I’m around people from 11am to 3pm every weekday, do it then. Here, take this.” she slipped a small plastic rectangle into my hand. It looked like a 3D printed enclosure with a tiny fan strapped to one side. “It’s good for one round trip. Go somewhere nobody will see you and press the button. Same deal for getting back.”
I wanted to say more, but she turned away. There was a dim flicker, a buzzing noise and she was gone. A string of waves disturbed the lake like a passing boat.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and when night fell I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t have any proof that she was telling the truth, but I know myself and I’m pretty sure she’s me. Me as a girl, and somehow fucked up enough for extra-universe murder plots. I laid in my bed and just stared at the blankness of the ceiling.
And Robin was right, I probably could pull it off. I know the combination to my dad’s gun safe, and I know that he doesn’t check it often. Guns and bullets can be traced though, would her version of my dad own the same gun? Whatever randomness is used to generate serial numbers, is it dependent on a quantum event? Maybe? No, the correct approach would be to purchase a gun. It wouldn’t be entirely out of character for me to purchase a pistol for self defense. I’d just need to make sure it wasn’t the same one Robin robin purchased, or will purchase. Using a significantly large set and a random number generator should be able to guarantee that.
But I couldn’t really do this. And even if I could find it within myself to murder someone, I didn’t want anything to do with this plot. Out of curiosity, I found myself looking up Kayla Watson. She worked for the county government. Her facebook profile photo showed her smiling with an older woman, her mom, maybe? I wondered what she had done in Robin’s universe that made Robin go to such lengths to try to kill her.
The next day at work I just tried to focus. I tried to ignore everything that was happening. I hoped that maybe if I didn’t kill Kayla that Robin would move on to another universe, or give up on the plot all together. It proved to be wishful thinking. I’d only been at work for a few hours when I got a message from Megan.
Zoe, have you heard the news?
No, what’s happened I felt my stomach churn, I knew what had happened.
They found Ryan…they found him dead in his apartment
I’m so sorry Megan In my head I knew it wasn’t my fault, but it still felt like I had killed him.
I looked up the article on the news. Man, 26, found dead in his apartment, a single gunshot wound in his chest. There were photos of Ryan smiling. The article called it random, senseless violence. But there was nothing senseless about it. Ryan had had it coming, but that didn’t make it right for me, or for Robin to bust into his apartment and shoot him.
I couldn’t get any work done after that. I kept expecting the police to show up and question me, but they never did. The articles said there were no leads. I wondered how true that was. I probably didn’t need to worry. I was at work surrounded by other people when Ryan was killed.
It was getting late in the day, and I didn’t want to be alone in my apartment. I texted Megan.
Hey Megan, are you doing okay, do you want me to come over after work?
Sorry Zoe, Jake’s mom is here, maybe some other time Ever since Megan moved in with Jake most of my attempts to socialize are met with a response like this.
I found myself sitting alone in my apartment eating left overs from the night before. Robin clearly expected me to kill Kayla Watson. How long would it take before she realized I wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t want to think of how she would react. I felt trapped. I tried to distract myself with TV, and given my lack of sleep the previous night, I drifted off.
I woke up the next morning with a start. I checked my apartment for anything out of the ordinary. I didn’t find anything. I cautiously started my day, went to work. Everything went normally. At lunch I kept hearing strange noises just on the verge of my hearing, but once again nothing happened.
A few slow, paranoid days passed. I found myself always looking over my shoulder, always listening for something out of place. But in the back of my head I started to wonder if Robin had moved on, or didn’t care for some reason.
But then, Friday evening a post-it on my fridge. you know what you need to do, my handwriting. I searched the house, nothing else seemed out of place, but of course I couldn’t really be sure. Robin wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
Feeling something between fear and determination, I realized I would have to do something.
I know myself. I’m a creature of habit and impatience. I expected Robin was moving between worlds at the same spot she met me at, and she’d probably be back pretty soon. I didn’t know when she would show up, so I brought snacks and books and I just waited. As the hours passed, I began to wonder if I was wrong about it all, but I stayed put.
The sun set and the dim reflection of the moon off the lake cast wavy shadows through the forest. It was nearly 2am when I saw it, the same ripples in the water with no boat or wind to explain them, and then a quiet buzzing noise like a machine slowly spinning down.
“Robin” I called out, “I know you’re here.”
“I thought you of all people would get it.” She emerged from the shadows her silhouette a shadow against the lake. She held something in her left hand. My heart sank as I realized, it was a pistol. She didn’t raise her arm, but the threat was there all the same.
“I think, I think I do get it Robin, but that doesn’t mean-”
“You don’t even know what she’s done, Zoe, I bet you can’t even imagine the pain she’s unleashed onto the world.”
“She hurt people, didn’t she? She hurt you? And you justify this as more than revenge because she will probably go on hurting people. I’ve been there. I spent days thinking about how to kill Ryan. But the world is full of people like Ryan and Kayla, and killing a few of them won’t change anything.”
“It’d make me fucking feel better.” Her words hit like bricks.
“Robin,” I took a step forward. My heart pounded in my chest. My eyes were locked on the gun. “I don’t think it will make things better, really.”
“Don’t try any of that forgive and forget bullshit with me.”
“I wasn’t gonna. I-” I took another step forward.
“I’m tired of just picking up the pieces. These people they wreck and they hurt and they kill, and the best we can manage is picking up after them? Fuck that, I wanna stop them.”
“I know, I know but this isn’t how to do that. This is just hurting you.” For a moment I contemplated the ethical implications of comforting someone who’d brutally murdered someone a few days prior, but I figured I could work all that out later.
I reached out my arms and held her. She exhaled, her shoulders slumped. She cried on my shoulder. I wasn’t sure what to feel.
“I’ve seen things” she choked back tears, “things you wouldn’t believe.”
“It’ll be okay.” I told her, empty words, but she didn’t contest them. I took a step back, it was still jarring seeing my own face staring back at me. “I’m not going to kill Kayla.” I held out the little device she’d given me.
She nodded, and slipped it into her pocket. “It’s late,” she said “I should probably go home.”
She hugged me again, briefly before turning and vanishing with a slight mechanical buzz.
I picked up my books, my backpack. As I headed back up the hill to my apartment, a breeze chilled my hands. I reached into my jacket pockets. There was something smooth and rectangular in one of them. The little device Robin had given me before. She’d slipped it back to me. An led glowed from inside, and a button waited to be pushed.