“Don’t panic,” said the man with my face, “I’m not here to hurt you.”
The words caught in my throat for a moment. My eyes traced his features – the shape of his head, the crook of his nose, the thickness of his lips, the colour of his eyes, the slightly uneven eyebrows, the partially off-centre teeth. He was me. He was me, he was me, he was me. But I was me. I was sure of it. Mostly.
“I—” I stuttered, looking over him once more. The words caught in my throat. The man struck more than a passing resemblance to me. This was no doppelganger, no mere lookalike. This was a clone. An identical copy. If it weren’t for the greying hair and extra wrinkles around the eyes and mouth, I would’ve sworn that I was looking into a mirror. “How?” I managed at last. My brain had already accepted that he was me; I decided to not waste time on questioning his authenticity. You know you. You know you better than anyone else… well, except for your mother and your lover. “How?” I repeated, dumbfounded.
“Time travel,” he said, looking around himself with jerking head movements. “But we don’t have the time for this right now. The how isn’t as important as the why.”
I frowned, and then glanced back into the apartment, where the New Year’s Eve party was starting to get well under way. Charlotte hadn’t seen me out on the balcony yet. Either of me. But it was only a matter of time. How would I explain it to her? Long lost twin? An older brother or other male relative? “Why?” I asked. “Why are you here?”
“To save you.” After a pause, he added: “Well, technically it’s to save myself. If you don’t last the night, then I certainly won’t. But I think you’ll forgive my selfishness, won’t you?” He said this last bit with a bit of a lopsided grin. How many times had I offered that very same smirk to friends and family?
“I’m in danger?” I asked, rather dumbly.
“You all are. We all are.” He checked his watch. “We’ve got about… twelve minutes until it starts.”
“Until what starts?” I asked, hating the way my voice sounded so whiny.
“I really don’t have much time to explain, I’m afraid,” he said. He then pulled a metal gun from his back pocket, only I’d never seen a gun like this in my entire life. It looked like something from space, or one of those old sci-fi movies from the 1950s. “Have you ever used one of these things before?” he asked. Before I could answer, he slapped himself on the head. “No, of course you haven’t. I hadn’t.” He chuckled. “Sometimes I forget that you were me.”
I looked at him blankly. “I don’t—”
He thrust the device into my hands. “It’s a simple laser blaster. Point this end and the things you want to die – and believe me, you will want them dead, when they arrive – and pull this little fella to do the whole pew-pew bit, y’know?”
I shook my head, trying to decline the weapon. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know how… I mean, I’ve never—”
“Jonathan,” said FutureMe sternly, “you don’t have a choice.” He checked his watch again. “We’ve got less than ten minutes, now. If you don’t fight, you die. And If you die, I die. And I’m not prepared to let that happen.” He pushed the laser blaster firmly into my hands. “Take the gun. Take it and use it.”
Reluctantly, I took the weapon. It was cold to the touch, and surprisingly heavy. I looked at it dubiously. There were pipes and tubes adorning the side, through which a fluorescent blue liquid was pulsing. I was admiring the psychedelic colours, when a thought struck me. I spun around, eyes searching the throng of people for Charlotte. Where was she?
A hand fell upon my shoulder. “Relax. I’m not the only one.” A pointing hand appeared in my field of vision. “See?”
I did see. I saw Charlotte, my partner of seven years. My hopefully soon-to-be fiancé, if she said yes to the question I was preparing to pop when the New Year’s countdown reached its finale. I could feel the bulge of the ring box in my back pocket, ever present, waiting. Charlotte was talking to another Charlotte. This second Charlotte was older, with a gorgeous grey streak running through her hair, and a fair few wrinkles adorning her pretty face. My heart thudded giddily within my chest. Was this what she’d look like in god knows how many years? I thought she looked equally as beautiful as the day I met her, many moons ago.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said FutureMe. “Because I thought the same thing that you did. But, please, calm down lover boy. Remember how little time we’ve got.” As he said this, I saw FutureCharlie pass my girlfriend a small metal gun that looked very similar to the device that I was holding. A second later, Charlotte spun around, eyes frantically searching. It took me a moment to realise she was looking for me. When our eyes eventually locked, an unspoken understanding passed between us. “Charlie’s telling her younger self the same thing I’ve just told you. Now, in about five minutes, they’ll be arriving.
“Who are they?”
“You’ll find out properly in due time, Jon. But for the time being, all you need to know is that they want all humans dead. Oh, and they’re particularly aggressive. But, one thing they aren’t is prepared. Prepared for us. They aren’t prepared for you to be prepared. And that’s what will be their death.”
“And what about the others?” I asked, watching my friends and acquaintances milling about the party. People were laughing and chatting, drinking and dancing. Small talk between strangers. Big talk between old friends. “Do they live too? Why haven’t any of their future selves come back to warn them?” I turned to FutureMe. “Can we warn them? Can we save them?”
His eyes dropped to the floor. “Look… you’ll learn more in due time. Trust me. For now, it’s just us four. It will make sense in the future. I promise. I know it doesn’t now, because it didn’t make sense back then to me, but—”
Inside, people began chanting. “TEN. NINE. EIGHT.”
FutureMe swore. “Lost track of time. Happens every damn time.” I could see both Charlottes running towards us, weapons drawn. A few people inside the party jumped out of their way, surprise and panic written across their faces.
“SEVEN. SIX. FIVE.”
“Get ready,” he said.
The door to the balcony – the place I’d gone to get some fresh air before asking the most important questions of my life – burst open as Charlie and FutureCharli came running to greet us. “You boys ready?” asked FutureCharlie, still as cool and calm as ever.
“Ready, Hon,” said FutureMe.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The four of us walked through the ruins of the New Year’s Eve party, checking the alien corpses that were littered across the floor. None were still alive, but, of course, we had to be sure. We had to be sure. “Pretty good shooting for a man who’s never used a laser blaster,” said FutureMe. “Nice shooting.” The guns were still hot in our hands. The blue liquid was bubbling at an accelerated pace, and I could feel the vibration. It was a good sensation. I thought I could get used to it. I supposed I would probably have to.
“If I recall correctly,” said FutureCharli, “you were a dab hand at offing our intergalactic neighbours, here, too, your first time.”
FutureMe shrugged nonchalantly. “What can I say?” he said, smirking at FutureCharli. I watched the way that she blushed in response to his boyish grin. It was beautiful, but it was also spooky. My Charlie blushed in the exact same way when I said something goofy like that to her. I glanced over at Charlotte and was mildly jealous to see that her cheeks were red too. It was an odd feeling, to say the least.
“One thing I don’t understand is,” said Charlotte. “Why’d you come back at all?”
“I’m sorry?” asked FutureMe with a frown, “I don’t—”
“I know what she’s getting at,” said FutureCharli. “I had the very same question myself. What she’s asking, husband dearest, is if we’re here now, we obviously survived the encounter. The initial one, anyway. And if we survived, why come back in time to help our younger selves fight? If our younger forms are going to survive anyway, why not just leave them to it. Isn’t that what you’re asking?”
Charlotte nodded. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
“Well, that’s because something was lost, the first time. Only I survived. We come back to save Jonathan.”
“I didn’t survive?” I asked, numbly.
“Not the first time, no. Sorry, sweetie.”
“Oh,” was all I could manage. The word escaped me like winded sigh. I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut.
“She came back for us,” said FutureMe, laying a hand on my shoulder. “That’s the power of love, buddy.” He glanced over to his wife. “From what I’ve heard, the first time was particularly difficult, when she did it by herself. Convincing both of us – both of you – to believe her. Convincing you to stand up and fight. After that, though, we’ve come back together. We do it together, always. It’s much easier, now. Not easy, as you’ll find out, but easier.”
I nodded and glanced over to Charlotte. The bulge of the ring box was practically throbbing in my pocket. “We’re a team,” I said, with a smile that she returned immediately.
FutureMe smiled. “Exactly.”
“Jonathan,” said FutureCharli. “Don’t you think we ought to…?” FutureMe checked his watch again. “Right you are, sweetie.” He looked from me to my future fiancé. “Listen, guys, I’d love to chat with you all night, but it’s taking a lot of power to send us back here. Every minute is expensive. Jon, my man, Charli, my love… we’ve gotta boogie.”
“How do we thank you?” I asked, almost at a loss for words.
“Surely there’s something we can do for you guys?” asked Charlotte.
The husband and wife grinned at each other. “Don’t worry about it,” said FutureMe, putting an arm around the woman who’d eventually marry me. “You not dying is all I could ever ask for. And besides,” he said, sharing a sideways glance with FutureCharli, “in a few years, you’ll be returning the favour.”
3rd January 2020
Written for Reedsy’s weekly Short Story Contest