Radiance by Sam Knowles

You’re not even sure it was there. A glimpse of blue jeans, a familiar backpack, and an unsettling glow. Like algae, if its bioluminescence was tied with a peculiar, threatening aura.

The figure slips further into the crowd ahead, between briefcases and raincoats, snapping you out of it and hiding from view. 

You can’t help it, so you follow. It’s dumb and probably not what you think. But those shoes have the exact scuffs and fades you know so well… if nothing else, this will be a funny story, you think.

No one looks up as you make your way upstream. From the blank looks and feet moving on autopilot, they’re most likely occupied with their plans for the day or social feeds displayed onto each person’s world from the optic iLens that just hit the market last year. You’re silent as you tread; it’s rude to say ‘excuse me,’ so as not to disturb their immersion.

The glow stops up ahead, turning a corner at a computer café and leading you past the shop you meant to visit. You feel a twinge of annoyance; couldn’t it take you somewhere useful?

Now free from the crowd, you speed up, jogging as fast as you can without making a scene or slipping in a puddle. Different advertising holograms activate as you pass, and you have to swipe your hand vigorously to make them stop.

You lose the figure at a fork in the road, but after only a moment’s concentration, you know it went left.

It’s unsettling, you think as you continue to jog, that you could be so connected to someone you’ve never met.

But you press on, past the empty trash cans and chipping bricks making up the city’s historic sector, so unlike the new buildings made of sleek metal, marble, and glass. 

These buildings look like they could crumble at any moment. It’s a silly fear, when so many people used to live and work in these very buildings, but it reminds you of the avalanches from TV — one thing leading to another.

You emerge from the alley and back into the sunlight, with a few unoccupied folks giving you strange looks.

You pass through the crowd again, this time annoyed and ready to quit. 

As if sensing your frustration, the figure’s glow comes to a stop up ahead, looming in front of the fountain in the city square with several crows landing at its feet.

You get cold feet as you near, and what you thought couldn’t be is confirmed.

Right in front of you is a person identical to yourself in every way, but with bloodshot eyes and a stony expression, hands shoved deep in its (your?) pockets.

People weave in and out of the large gap you leave between the figure and yourself, and you decide that if it won’t speak, you will.

“Why are you here?” you ask, suspicious. 

“I thought you’d want it to be me,” the figure replies, like you should know already. Like it didn’t just make you chase it through the city like a low-budget Batman.

You fix it with an impatient glare. “Be you to do what?”

The figure says nothing but sits on the edge of the fountain, and the glow tells you you should sit, too.

You still give a wide berth but now look yourself in the eyes, face to face. 

It looks sad, and that’s a bad omen if you’ve ever seen one. 

“What do you know about Intellion?” it asks, throwing you for a loop.

“It’s… big?” you reply. “It replaced Apple in 2040. Why does it matter?”

“I work there.” The figure’s tone says it wishes it didn’t.

“So, I work there?” Getting answers from yourself is like pulling teeth.

“Not yet.” 

“Huh,” you say, unsurprised and unexcited. You’d imagined something more fun for your life, but maybe you’d just caught yourself on a bad day.

“Okay, so why are you here?” you ask, wanting answers.

“I’m visiting,” it replies, avoiding your stare. It drops a hand into the fountain, as if it were something other than dirty city water.

Between the birds flapping clean further down, bottlecaps litter the inside of the fountain, replacing the coins that used to reside there before money had been made completely digital.

Your doppelgänger takes one and puts it in their pocket. It forms a wet spot where it sits, but the figure doesn’t seem to care.

“Come with me,” it says, already walking, and you follow suit. You didn’t come this far just to turn around without answers, but the way the rain is sprinkling down now, you’re sorely tempted.

“Are you sure you can’t tell me why you’re here?” you ask after only a moment of silence between you. “At least tell me why you sought me out.”

“Because it’s my job,” it simply says, and you feel your last shred of patience float away.

“Okay, this isn’t funny. What does this have to do with me?”

The newly-named bane of your existence comes to a stop in the shade of a tree, standing in front of a graffitied brick wall. It does little to protect from the rain.

“Do you know the butterfly effect?”

It’s a simple question, but it says much more. 

“Yes,” you say simply, your face hardening. You offer nothing else.

“On the bright side, you’re important,” the figure says with the smallest, most forced smile you’ve ever seen on your face.

“What’s the dark side?”

“Nothing yet.” But it sounds more like a threat than reassurance.

“Okay, not that this hasn’t been fun,” you say, turning with a frown. “But I think I’m heading home.”

“You’d let me roam around with your face in your time?” it asks, and you hate that it’s right. But if it’s you, that makes sense.

“If you’re me, you’ll do what I do.” You take a few steps before it follows. 

“Please don’t make this difficult,” it says, making you laugh shortly.

“Me? You’ve been messing me over all day!” You move back to face yourself and cross your arms. “I’m done. Tell me why you’re here, or I’ll walk away.”

There’s a pause while you stare yourself down. 

“No, you won’t. You’ll do what I did.” It sits on the ground, ignoring the mud, so you follow suit; you’re already soaked.

“Do you like your life?” It’s a simple question, but the one you most want to ask. You have no doubts this is you from the future, as basic time travel was already hypothesized to be just over the horizon. 

You just didn’t expect to be a part of it so soon.

“I did,” it says, like its mission is to be as unhelpful as possible. 

“Why?”

“Intellion.”

“Was that the good thing or the bad thing?”

“It’s the good thing that led to the bad thing.”

Silence falls once more as thunder booms above, and you wonder if you’ll ever get dry again.

“So what if I just don’t apply to work at Intellion?” you ask, dropping your head to your arms on raised knees. 

“You already did,” it replies. “Well, a version of you did, and me being here doesn’t change that.”

“Well, what does you being here change?” You’re curious now, beyond the fleeting curiosity you felt when you first felt the pull of the glow. “If you can’t change the future by telling me things, what’s left?”

“I can change it with my actions,” it says, making you smile sarcastically.

“I don’t think sitting under a tree with me will change much.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” It hums, fetching the bottle cap from its pocket. 

“You said I’m important earlier. Important how?” 

The water droplets glimmer on the metallic green cap.

“Important in the company,” the figure replies. “You work in Research.”

You perk up at that, furrowing your brows. “Research? I was thinking president or vice.”

“I know,” it replies. “And yet you knew what they didn’t. All the cool stuff happens in the lab, anyways.”

It’s the first time the figure has sounded like you, and you feel strangely proud rather than creeped out. You smile.

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. As fun as this is, how much longer are we gonna sit in the rain?”

It hums, flipping the cap up in a straight line. “Just a bit longer. Do you have any more questions?”

An offer to talk feels ironic after trying to coax information out of the figure for the last half hour, but you’ll take what you can get.

“What will this change in the future? And why did I have to see myself?” 

“That’s difficult.” The bottle cap flips again. “I was made to come here. Pressured, I guess. Technically.

Flip.

“Things are less free in the future. Only a handful of companies have complete power.

Flip.

“Intellion is one of them. I don’t think that’s a good thing anymore.

Flip.

“Believe it or not, I’m doing you a favor.” The figure with your face makes eye contact for the first time that afternoon, just as thunder cracks above. “I’m doing us a favor. You asked if you could just not apply. In a way, this is that.”

You follow its eyes up the tree, squinting into the rain. A hand finds your shoulder as a huge bolt of lightning hits the tree, splintering wood and sending branches hurtling towards the ground.

“This is best,” it says, and the glows of the figure and electricity consume your vision.


This story was ranked 2nd in the second Broken Mirror contest.

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