I was at the stadium watching the laser ball when the message came through on my pad.
Powhlai district. Kyweir Street, Lane 32. 4pm. White male, mid thirties. 5 ft 8 and will be running.
A cheer from the crowd went up – twelve points to three but there was no time to collect.
Rising to my feet, I cursed under my breath. Less than an hour, which meant no going home, no laser pistol and I didn’t even know where Kyweir street was.
Weaving my way about the crowd and searching for a likely weapon, my eyes landed on a child’s plaything. A metal stick with the face of a clown; discarded momentarily. It would do, I decided, scooping it up. I tested its durability on the palm of my hand. By no means perfect, but it would have to suffice.
Down the steps to the subway, I caught the first train going south.
“I know you” said the woman. “We’ve met before.”
I took in the short skirt and colourful leggings. Strands of pink hair about her face and shoulders. Moving away, I insisted that she must have got the wrong person.
“No, it’s definitely you,” she insisted. Her hand went towards my arm and I pulled away. People were looking and I was beginning to get a headache.
“Not me,” I mumbled.
“Yes, yes, I remember now. We had a good time. If you ever …?”
“No,” I repeated forcefully. “I’ve never met you,” I said, backing away.
Her eyes … they didn’t match. There was scorn. Fear. A bright pink smile was there to mislead me.
“We could have fun again,” she mouthed silently, turning her wrist in the direction of my own.
I shuffled to the next carriage, avoiding the staring glances of the other passengers.
But later when the train arrived at Powhlai, she was there again as I was exiting the station.
“You’re so familiar,” she soothed, backwardly pacing in front of my path. There was another attempt to grab my wrist; her eyes, they were full of hate.
“I never forget a face,” she almost screamed.
“But you’ve got the wrong guy,” I insisted. Quickly I made past her through the crowd, to the line of taxis. How much time did I have now?
“Let me come with you,” she cried from behind me. “You’re going to Kyweir street, right?”
“How the hell did you know that?”
“Oh, I know things,” she said, grabbing my hand and pointing at her wrist. Once again she attempted to match her pad with mine. “You’d be surprised.”
“Just get away from me.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing.”
I made it to a taxi. The door shunted upwards.
“You’re not getting in,” I growled.
“I won’t let you leave me.”
“You’ll make a scene.”
“I don’t care.”
“I’ve never even met you.”
“And wouldn’t you like to?” she smiled. But there it was again. The fear, the scorn. “I live near here. I could give you a discount.”
She pushed her body up against me. In the heat of the evening I could smell her sweat.
“I have somewhere to go.”
“Can’t it wait?”
The taxi moved along. A group of three androgynous teenagers had piled inside with a cackle of laughter.
The weapon hidden along my right thigh was starting to feel uncomfortable.
“I have something to do. I’m sorry.”
“Just a half hour,” she pleaded.
“You want money?”
“I want you.”
Another taxi had passed; this one occupied by a blind man and his robot.
“You remind me of someone.”
“But I’m not him.”
“Oh, yes you are,” she laughed. “You’re definitely him.”
Two hands stroking my arm. Looking to a clock at the side of a scraper I saw that I only had sixteen minutes left.
I took in those hateful eyes. Something was wrong.
“Who sent you?” I asked.
“Why don’t you want me to get in this taxi?”
“I need you,” she sang. She too was now looking over at the clock.
“How do you know where I’m going?”
She began to scream. Fists pounded my chest as the crowd parted around us.
“I won’t let you,” she wailed. “I won’t let you kill him.”
By the time I got to Kyweir Street my head was killing me. It was just past four and a crowd of officers surrounded the entrance to Lane 32. I kept my distance; with no wish for any further interrogation, I decided that whatever had happened had happened. A failed mission and no pay but at least, it seemed, the job had been finished. A backup I wasn’t told about – the risk had probably been too great.
Dropping the weapon into a nearby trash can, I took a left into Lane 29 and wondered if I’d in fact been lucky. The authorities would confirm my position as being far from the scene of the crime. I was safe for another day’s work. I hoped that whoever had done the task had been professional enough to distance themselves too. Six minutes past four, I confirmed, eyeing the pad in my wrist. The police had certainly got there quickly.
The sign of an eatery attracted my attention. Sky blue with faded orange writing: Lanka's Cafe. The name felt familiar and I swung inside.
It was a narrow place, about the width of the door going in. No tables, just a long bar with stools, most of which were taken. The sound was of sizzling food and shouts from the chefs; a tacky melody played in the background and the place smelt of grease and smoke.
I saw him immediately. Positioned there quietly with the coffee and pancakes I’d already decided to order. Just imagine for an instance what it would be like to enter such a place and see yourself sitting right in front of you – the person was me and I was him.
There’s no record of any such occurrence ever taking place. Superstitions tell us it can’t. That it would mean the end of the universe. A rip in the space time continuum. That it would be too much for reality itself to handle. But it must have happened somewhere, some time. Since travelling back became possible, there must have been instances … but as I stood there watching me and our eyes suddenly met, it was like a thunderous bolt had hit me for six.
Right in the stomach I felt it. There in the gut.
Turning back out and onto the side walk, I threw up whatever it was I’d eaten that morning.
About me the traffic of pedestrians swerved.
I retched up some more, my insides were convulsing. But eventually I manage to gather myself together. Standing straight, I wiped my mouth on a sleeve; thought about the figure I’d just seen. The same pasty face and parted black hair as my own. A different suit; the blue one I hadn’t worn in a while. The gold watch I’d forgotten to put on that morning. The same age, the same person. I wondered how long it would be before I was him. Thought about it some more. I’d have to report this; who knew what kind of damage our meeting had just caused.
A buzzing sound on my pad. I was striding along purposefully. Looking up at the zeppelins gliding between the scrapers, at the hover bikes buzzing past and at the people around me as we descended into the underpass, I wondered what I’d changed.
Credits for what? I thought. But of course. It had been me. “I won’t let you kill him!” she’d screamed. And I’d been questioned by the approaching officers.
“Just a misunderstanding,” I’d assured them when she escaped into the crowd.
But somehow I’d managed it anyway. The job had been completed and he was dead, just like he was supposed to be. The job had been done and it was I who had finished it.