Dry mouth, tingly skin, and a worsening headache. She called this the “lazy drug” phase. The effects of the narcotics lingered, but they weren’t doing what they were supposed to do, which she imagined was dull the pain. She’d been in this position enough to know that asking for more was a waste of breath. Instead of calling for help, she occupied her mind by trying to backtrack through events. For the moment, she could barely remember the accident, let alone how bad it was.
Most of her body itched. She tried to scratch a spot on her chest, but her arm wouldn’t move. She cracked her eyelids open; she was familiar enough with narcotics to know that any light would set her cranium aflame. Through her slitted vision, she saw a plaster cocoon around her arm. Fragments of the event returned to her. Screeching tires, her body jolting forward. She didn’t believe she’d struck the windshield, but she assumed she hadn’t been wearing her seatbelt. Doing so would have been the smart thing to do. Sasha had been called many things, but smart wasn’t one of them.
At least she was smart enough to be aware of the stupidity of her actions. The timeline slowly came together. She knew she shouldn’t have gone to the bar. She was behind on her bills and would be lucky to make the next rent payment. She didn’t know what made her change her mind; one moment she was thinking rationally and the next she was walking toward the neon sign. There was something about the man who sat next to her that she didn’t trust. She knew she shouldn’t have spoken with him, definitely shouldn’t have accepted the drink he offered. She wasn’t sure what made her change her mind then, either.
The aches worsened. She shut her eyes and tried to force herself to fall asleep. It would have been easier if she were able to cover her ears, but that was impossible with the cast. She tried to ignore the sounds outside her room: shuffling feet, squeaking wheels, conversations between doctors and patients. She heard a few people crying in the distance, which filled her with a sense of longing. Everyone who was willing to cry for her had given up on her long ago.
Eventually, there was a noise that forced her to open her eyes. A clacking of soles against the ground that grew louder with each successive impact. Sasha assumed it was a nurse performing a checkup, but a scraping of metal across the floor indicated a chair was being scooted closer to the hospital bed. Most nurses never bothered getting so close. Sasha cracked her eyes open.
A woman in a pantsuit sat beside her bed, her hands folded in her lap. Dark skin, straight hair, brown eyes, the two could have been twins. Her slender frame even matched Sasha’s figure when she was younger.
“I’m so sorry,” the look-alike said with a heavy sigh, “for everything you’ve been through.”
“Thanks,” Sasha said as clearly as she could manage with a dry tongue. “Who’re you?”
“My name is Sasha.”
She rolled her tongue around her mouth to make her saliva flow. “Mine, too,” she murmured.
“My surname is Konai.”
Sasha opened her eyes wider. She winced but gazed at the stranger. “Mine, too.”
The doppelganger was silent and seemed to struggle with where to begin. “Have you ever made a decision without knowing why?” she finally asked. “Like, you thought about it, you knew what you wanted to do, but for some reason, you did something different?”
Sasha closed her eyes again and directed her face toward the ceiling. “Story of my life. Who’re you? An investigator? Insurance claims? Weird we have the same name, isn’t it?”
“I’m a consultant, with doctorates in several fields. Chemistry, mathematics, philosophy, computer science.”
Sasha clicked her tongue. “Whoop dee do for you.”
A wedding ring clinked on the rail of the bed as the look-alike placed her hand on it. “Like you, I didn’t have much agency in my decisions. The difference is I knew why my choices were being made, and who was making them for me. I’m here to apologize on my behalf and theirs.”
She shrugged with the arm not constrained by a cast. “I won’t turn down the chance to hear an apology. Can’t remember the last time anyone said they were sorry.” Her mind processed the rest of the look-alike’s statement. “What’d you mean ‘much agency?’”
The visitor rested both hands on her lap. “I’m not from around here. When I was born, an experiment had been proposed. My parents volunteered me before I took my first step. I was put in the care of a group. There was always someone watching me, telling me what to do.”
“School. You’re describing school.”
“I’m not, but they told me what schools to go to. They told me what classes to take, and which extracurriculars. They made me as intelligent and active as possible.” The chair squeaked as the look-alike leaned closer to the bed. “And I mean exactly that. They made me as intelligent as possible. They scanned my brain, my body. They,” she paused and scowled, “they even monitored my hormones as I developed. They knew what I’d excel in, what I’d enjoy. You didn’t join the pottery club in high school, did you?”
Sasha’s eyebrows furrowed instinctively. “I never joined any clubs.” She recited the same line she’d used when her parents tried to get her more involved in school. “Bunch of kids trying to find a place where they fit in. Kids don’t know who they are. They don’t fit in anywhere.”
“I know you wanted to join some clubs. Pottery wouldn’t have been your first choice, but you wanted to do something artistic.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. It was years ago. I can’t remember what I did last month.” She gestured to her injuries. “I even blacked out this accident.”
“Well, take it from me, you wanted to be in those kinds of groups when you were younger.” She laced her fingers and placed them under her chin. “It’s not a coincidence we have the same name. I’m you.”
Sasha waited for her guest to lose composure. Instead, the look-alike sat still with a straight face.
“The experiment,” the visitor finally continued. “Most of the researchers were computer programmers. They developed a profile of my classmates, friends, and family. That, coupled with the data they took on my body,” she ran her hands over her face. “They simulated my life. They never left me alone. Every time I was faced with a decision, they ran it through their program and examined the options. They decided pottery was the most beneficial for me at the time.”
“You poor thing,” Sasha said sarcastically. “Why’d you say you’re me? I never would’ve let anyone make me do anything.”
“But you did. You went along with the experiment,” the visitor’s eyes moistened, and her voice cracked, “because I did.”
“What’re you crying for?”
“Your life!” the visitor cried. A tear streaked down her cheek, and she smeared it off with her sleeve. “There are countless realities, countless versions of us. When we’re faced with a decision, all possible choices are split between us.” She tapped her forehead. “It’s natural to consider consequences and act responsibly, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes people act without thinking or go against their best judgment. It isn’t their fault. They make that choice because one version of them has to. Normally those impulsive moments are evenly distributed. It’s theoretically impossible for anyone to make a series of thoughtless choices.” Another tear fell and she wiped it away gently. “But for us it’s different.”
The visitor nodded. “As I said, I’m a consultant. I worked with a group that investigated methods of viewing or even traveling between realities. As our research progressed a thought occurred to me. When I observed your life, that thought was confirmed.” She placed her fingertips on the cast. “I’m so ashamed of how long it took me to figure this out. We,” she hiccupped as another tear threatened to escape, “induced your fate.”
“You did what?” Sasha had trouble keeping up with what the visitor was saying. She wondered if the drugs still held a stronger effect on her than she realized. “Who’s we?”
The visitor pulled a cloth handkerchief from her breast pocket and wiped her nose. “Don’t you see? Dispersion is nature’s way. Each version is supposed to make a mix of good and bad decisions. But the experiment created a unique scenario, and reality created an opposite extreme to maintain balance.” She placed a hand on her chest. “If one version made only beneficial decisions,” she moved the hand to the hospital bed, “then another version made only detrimental ones. You had so much potential. You could have been brilliant, strong, and an inspiration to thousands. The only reason you’re such a colossal failure is because I was bred for success.” She draped her arm over the blanket in a gentle hug. “I’m so sorry for what we did to you. The experiment was inhumane, and it was selfish for me to go along with it.”
Sasha pushed her visitor away. She looked at her cast, then into her doppelganger’s reddened eyes. “You’re saying that nothing I’ve done has been my fault?” Despite the still worsening headache, a smile crept across Sasha’s face. “What’re you crying for? That’s great news.” She looked at her cast again, thought about what she remembered of the accident, and reflected on all the other reckless things she’d done throughout her life. “It’s not my fault!”