“Technically, you should say that she is welcome Somewhere” another person corrected.
“Actually, because we are below the municipality of Fiery Creek, even though the town authorities have never cared to impose their law down here, we are still part of Fiery Creek, so it is also correct that we should welcome her to Fiery Creek” the first one argued.
“What the fuck?” was the only thing that Jane was able to pronounce.
“There is a lot of explaining that we need to do” the first one continued, but this time speaking to Jane.
“About the fact that we are a community that is independent from Fiery Creek” the second one stated.
“Nobody cares about your bullshit, Sam” the first one said. “Somewhere is an integral part of Fiery Creek, and our link to them is undeniable”.
Jane tried to interrupt them. “Guys, where am I? What is this?”
The one who was not Sam got firm, tried to comb his hair in place using his fingers and cleared his throat. “Hello, I am Michael Stone, researcher in The Deep InterDimensional Laboratory. This is Samuel West, one of my colleagues. If you are here, it means that you have accidentally dropped through one of the tunnels that we have opened into your dimension” he explained.
“Yeah, but don’t you go thinking that you are special or something. You’re not ‘the chosen one’, or some shit like that. This was just an accident” Sam added. Seeing that Jane did not respond, he started to get a little nervous. “Is that point about you not being ‘the chosen one’ clear?”
“I don’t give a shit about any chosen ones. I just want to go back home” she implored.
Sam breathed in relief. Michael shook his head. “Anyway, you cannot take the tunnel back for a few hours now, so you are going to have to stay with us. Just come in and get comfortable” he said, as he walked through a corridor.
Sam approached Jane as she followed Michael into the Deep InterDimensional Laboratory. He seemed a bit reluctant to initiate the conversation, shy to the point that he seemed borderline creepy. After about a 100 metres, Jane finally spoke to him.
“What do you want?” she asked, exasperated.
“Would you… would you answer a short survey about your trip here? For research purposes, of course.”
She rolled her eyes. “OK, I guess”.
“Did you stop in any dimension in which there were non humanoid creatures?”
“Yes” she answered. She then counted. “Two of them. One with humanoid animals, and another one with unicorns”.
“OK, good…” he mumbled, ticking some boxes and making some annotations in a survey that he had produced out of nowhere. “Were the unicorns friendly?”
“No. It tried to kill me” she said.
“OK, quite standard. Did you see the city you landed in? Was it in ruins?”
“Yes, it had been attacked”.
“Mmmh…” he stopped for a bit and then checked a set of boxes and took even more annotations. “Seems like you went through one of the Unicorn War dimensions. That delimits the region you went through quite a lot. I still need to know more, though. Did you go through any space bars?”
She tried to remember. “Yes, I went through one. They said something about some space terrorist called Sarah, and some spaceship called dream, or something like that”.
He seemed surprised. “Did they also speak about a spaceship called EDG-482 that was lost?”
“Yes, that does ring a bell, now that you mention it…”
He checked a few boxes. “And what were the intermediate dimensions?”
“It all happened in the same bar, at the same time” she explained.
He stopped breathing. He went onto a box checking and writing frenzy. In the midst of that activity, he shouted. “Michael, we have a triple space bar! Triple space bar!”
Michael turned around. “That’s interesting. That actually delimits the possibilities quite a lot”.
“Wait, what?” Jane asked.
“The conversations did not happen in the same space bar. It was three different space bars in three different dimensions!” Sam explained, excited.
She did not seem very impressed. “Is that important for some reason?” she asked.
His enthusiasm did not waver. “It is super important! If you’ve gone through a triple space bar path, then it means that you must come from one of the normal dimensions! Anyway, knowing this, it’s just going to be one more question”.
“What was the first dimension you stepped into?” he asked.
She remembered clearly. “Some terrorist had started a war that had wiped out most Asian countries. My roommate had gone from Chinese to black”.
He finished checking a few boxes. “We’re good to go. I’m going to go give this to the technicians, Michael”.
When he left, Michael started to walk next to Jane, leading the rest of the way. He stopped when they reached a door.
“OK, so I need to explain some stuff before we cross this door. Because you come from one of the normal dimensions, though it won’t be easy to understand, it will at least be a bit easier”.
Jane interrupted him. “Look, I’m not stupid. I’ve been hurtling through alternate dimensions for quite a while now. I think I will understand”.
He breathed in. “OK, there it goes. Over a century ago, in 1847, an oracle from this town named Diane Vines predicted that some great horror would endanger all universes. She thus built a powerful source of magic energy, an Orchard that the Ancient civilizations started to use to protect sacred places, but she made a variation: she put a Sacred Lemon Tree in the centre. Thus, she could harvest the power from that Orchard to power the Deep InterDimensional Laboratory. She built an underground city just below it called Somewhere and brought a selection of people to this place. Many also think that she created a powerful hex that kept strangers away from the city” he stopped to breathe.
“OK, so that was not all that difficult to understand” Jane stated, crossing her arms.
“Well, yeah, but that’s because the complicated part starts now” Michael explained. “She explained to our community that the space of all dimensions could actually be understood as a 3D surface (though we actually know that it is a lot more complicated than that) in which each point of the surface maps to a single dimension. This surface’s shape is determined by the characteristics of each possible alternate universe or dimension, and the difference between them can be very minimal when we are considering adjacent dimensions. That being said, the summation of several thousands of tiny differences can be big enough for the alternate universes to be vastly different. This, however, does not mean that any kind of universe with any parameters is possible, because many constants of physics need to be tuned extremely finely for a universe to be able to exist, and thus most of the universes that can be imagined are actually impossible”. He stopped for a second. “Are you following?”
“I… don’t think so” Jane managed to pronounce.
He didn’t even hear her answer. “OK, so, if you understood all of that, the Multiverse has minimum and maximum points, because certain variations make it impossible for a given universe to exist. These maximum and minimum points are extreme universes that insult the norm in every possible way, and usually life in them is quite a wonder. Diane Vines, the oracle I’ve told you about, also explained that this danger that was going to destroy the universe would appear in one of the minimum points. Our dimension happens to be in a local minimum, so she gave us one of the most important missions. For generations, all of the citizens of Somewhere have been working in isolating all dimensions from each other, so that the great danger that threatens each and every universe is forced to come here. Some thought that we could maybe calculate which dimensions are local minimums and only isolate those. This, however, is not a calculation that can be done for any single universe in a time frame that would allow us to isolate the minima in time, so we are just using brute force. The citizens of Fiery Creek will then have to ‘deal with it’, or that’s what Diane said, anyway”.
“But… but… wouldn’t there be, like, infinite alternate universes?” Jane asked.
“Yes, but Diane gave us a head start, and she closed off most of them. Of course, she had to make a great sacrifice for this…”
“What was that sacrifice?” Jane was curious.
“Her own lifespan. With her kind of power, she could have easily lived for millennia in this universe. But she chose to reduce it to a normal lifespan to close off most of the dimensions. She only left a trillion connected universes. Thanks to that, in the rest of the time we have managed to isolate most of those, and now we are at 520 million interconnected universes”.
“How do you do this?” Jane asked.
“Yeah, I guess after this whole talk about alternate dimensions and everything you would expect something a lot more techie. But it was magic”.
“It’s quite reasonable, I guess” Jane said. After thinking a little bit about it, she said. “So… you are heroes. To the whole multiverse”.
“Oh, no, we’re not. We are just luring the disaster here. We are not the ones fighting it” Michael explained. “It’s the people up there who have to destroy it” he pointed up.
“Do you… do you think they can do it?” Jane asked.
“I really hope so” Michael said, opening the door.
“Wait a minute” Jane interrupted the door opening. “None of that actually explains how I got here”.
He took ten seconds to think about it. “Actually, you are right. So, thing is, sometimes we need to go to the dimensions we are closing off to check some stuff. In order to do that, we tunnel through the dimensions and open safe portals in there”.
“And you are trying to tell me that you open up those portals in toilet stalls?”
“Actually, yes, and it makes a lot of sense…”
“No it doesn’t” she interrupted.
He seemed annoyed. “Yes, it does. A toilet stall is quite a safe place. It’s unlikely that a war is going to be fought there. A toilet is also a discreet place, and it’s definitely much better than just opening up a portal in the middle of a public place” he explained.
“Yes, but then, why did that toilet not take me here any of the previous times that I used it?” Jane asked.
“Because the toilet seat was there” he said, quickly.
“The portal is only open if the toilet seat is not there. It is a security measurement: if the toilet seat is not there, it is much less likely that anyone will use the toilet, thus making it safer for us to move there. We sometimes have to deal with people like you, which gives us quite an embarrassing and awkward information about how you would use a toilet without its seat in an emergency, unlike most people”.
Jane blushed. “Anyway, open the door already!” she said, trying to change the topic.
Jane looked inside and found a giant room of panels, computers and technology. That looked nothing like magic. It looked like one of those scientific labs that they show monitoring the state of the world in sci-fi movies in normal universes. A lot of people were working in quite a quiet fashion. Jane looked at the screens. In one of them she saw two policemen talking about a woman who had choked on a popsicle.
“Is that an alternate universe?” Jane asked.
“Oh, no, it’s not. That’s just a really bad police procedural crime drama that only had a pilot episode. The pilot case was about a serial killer who killed his victims by making them choke with popsicles” Michael explained. “Switch that off and get back to work, Shaquonda!” he said to a black woman looking at the screen.
“I ain’t working, t’is ma day off today” she said, doing a sassy hand gesture.
“Oh, OK… Wait! But that was yesterday!”
“Oh, you caught me” she laughed. “But actually I’m waiting for my algorithm to run”.
“OK, good job” he said.
As they advanced, Jane looked around. “So, what are we doing now?”
“We are trying to locate your home universe, and then we will send you there”.
“Just like that? No memory deletion or anything?” Jane asked.
“No, why would we need to? You come from one of the normal universes. Nobody will believe you, even if you tell them” Michael said.
“Oh. That actually makes sense”.
“I know” he said, as he stopped in front of a desk and checked his screen. “Anyway, Samuel says that you might come from one of these universes, according to his analysis” he pointed towards the screen. “What was the Brexit vote result in your universe?”
“Leave won by a small margin” Jane answered, bitterly.
“OK, that means you are from Earth 894X-C7445-8965G. We will now open up a portal for you and you will go back home”.
Michael wrote a number of commands in his computer and a light switched on over a platform. The platform was floating in the middle of a perfectly circular hole, with no column to hold it. The hole went down further than the eye could see. A Gordian knot descended from the high ceiling, out of nowhere, radiant, until it touched the platform’s centre. The knot disappeared the moment it touched the plain platform, and the platform started to switch on and off with light. A stairway descended from the floating platform and into the room.
“The portal is ready. Just think about your destination in your planet as you go in” Michael explained.
Jane went up the first stair, then turned back. “Michael… Thank you”.
“You’re welcome” he smiled.
When she got to the centre of the platform, he said “Goodbye”.
The platform started to descend into the hole. Jane looked around and suddenly saw that it was slowly being left onto a mass of water. The platform floated there. Jane did not notice much of a change until she looked up and saw that the water level was steadily going down, and the top of the hole was further by the moment. She thought that maybe it was just a trap, and was scared for a moment, but then thought about all of the stuff that she had been through during that day, and felt calmer.
The platform started to descend below the water level, and Jane was afraid that she would be left in the cold water to die. And then she saw the water forming a tube around the platform, liquid, but still holding around. After the platform had descended a few metres, the water closed back in, and Jane found herself in a platform, inside a space protected by magic and enclosed in water.
The descent was slow, but it eventually ended. The floor of the platform now showed an image of several discs in movement. Jane looked around and took a while to recognize the solar system, with the Sun in the centre, and the planets and other objects around it. She started to think as hard as she could about her hall of residence, where she was studying that year.
The platform disappeared, and Jane thought she was going to fall. Instead, she found the reality in which she was fading away, and she started to see familiar shapes. When the focus was back to normal, she found herself back in her residence, and it was still broad daylight. Her phone connected to the wifi there and corrected its time back to the morning.
Yanling came out of her room. “Hey, Jane, how are you doing?”
“Oh, hi! I’ve had quite a weird morning, actually. I’m pretty tired” Jane answered. “What about you?”
“I was going to go grab some lunch now” she said. “Wanna come?”
“Oh, but I just need to got to the toilet first…”
“Don’t go in this floor” Jane interrupted, before Yanling opened the toilet door. “One of them is dirty, the other one doesn’t work and the last one does not have a toilet seat. We need to call the office so that they send someone to repair it”.
“OK. Shall we go downstairs, then?”
It was back to the real world. Jane wondered whether it had all been real at all, but then she checked her phone and her credit card. Her brother’s messages in the dimension in which he had died were still there, and the meal from Donna’s had been charged to her bank account. It was an experience she would never forget.