Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 24 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s recent cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.”
This is the fourth of several new stories that PJ Lifestyle will be excerpting. Check out Jamie Wilson’s, “The Enforcement of Happiness” excerpted Monday, Robert Arrington’s “Reunion” about ghosts at a high school reunion, Pierre Comtois’s last week on Friday, “The Future That Used To Be,” and this one from Michael Sheldon on Thursday, “‘Do You Make Your Dark’n’Stormies With the Proper Bermudian Ingredients?'” More author interviews will be coming soon too.
The girl at the desk was not so friendly anymore. She used to be, when my benefactor first set me up here on the 22nd floor. She used to be ditzy and friendly and childishly inquisitive about my work. But the pretense was gone now. Marta was Max’s spy, here only to make sure my reports were honest.
And why wasn’t she pretending anymore? Because it was over. I hadn’t received official notification that the project was finished, but I felt sure the decision was made. It was a matter of days at most before the power was shut off and all the equipment went into storage.
She was intently surfing the net, undoubtedly shopping her receptionist/spy resume around to various wealthy madmen. I silently wished her luck, but didn’t bother with conversation, having lost interest in pretense myself.
Past the reception area, down a hall with doors to small offices–all unoccupied–through a set of double doors and there I was: standing in front of the only gateway to alternate universes that had ever existed in human history. I built it and I should have won the Nobel Prize for it, but part of the agreement I’d made in exchange for the money to build it had been a thoroughly binding secrecy agreement. I’m pretty sure there was a clause in there somewhere about my soul.
There was a familiar feeling of hope as I switched on the equipment and began going through last night’s logs, but it was quickly replaced by black despair as I saw that nothing had changed.
My cell beeped at me, the pattern telling me it was Max, or at least Max’s office. I flipped it open and the tiny screen showed the fresh, young face of Art Samuelson, one of Max’s lawyers. He smiled a sunny smile, waiting for me to accept the call.
I did. “Good morning, Art,” I said. No reason to be unfriendly. Lawyers can’t help being what they are. No point in hating fungus for being fungus.
“David,” he said. “Good morning to you! In the lab, eh? Never say die, that’s you.”
“The scans are getting much wider ranging now,” I said, which was true. I was searching a bigger slice of infinity. “The results should be–”
“Dave,” he interrupted in that pseudo-friendly way that you unconsciously want to believe. “You know I don’t have a head for the tech stuff. Alternate universe, blah, blah, blah is all I hear when you talk about the details. No offense.”
“None taken,” I said. I sat down at my desk and put my phone on its stand.
“Davey, we’ve got a problem,” he said. Here it comes. “All your gizmos are just drawing too much juice. The building manager has asked us to knock it off for a week or so until we can get an electrical contractor in there to certify everything. Sounds like a bunch of bull crap to me, probably designed to raise our rent. You know how these bastards are, right?”
I really had no idea which bastards he was talking about and felt certain the us vs. them invitation was meant to make me feel like we were in this together. A team. Go, team!
“Anyway,” he said, “I need you to lay off the experiments until we can get this situation taken care of, okay?”
“Sure, Art. No problem. I can analyze the existing data for–”
“Excellent!” he said. “And, hey, how about lunch later this week? Max and I are doing that new Argentine place day after tomorrow at 11:30. Meet us there, okay?”
I nodded. He hung up.
I began charging the gate, planning on doing just what Art had asked me not to. There was a subtle whining sound from the equipment. Then inside the vacuum chamber a flickering light resolved into a small, silvery sphere less than a meter in diameter: the intersection between the four dimensional space-time of our universe and an infinite number of others.
I could never visit any of them. My still uncredited contribution to quantum mechanics had demonstrated that only massless particles like photons could pass between the universes. I swear, the moment I realized this could actually be done the first thing I thought of was selling the rights to TV shows from alternate universes. That’s why I’d located in New York, a likely location for a city no matter what culture ended up here–or so I’d assumed.
But of the many thousands of alternate Earths I’d examined through what I called the gate, no culture of any kind had settled here, because here was under at least ten miles of water.
That had never occurred to me. When I thought of alternate timelines of course I thought of worlds where the South had won the Civil War or the Roman Empire never fell. The appeal of that concept was why I’d specialized in quantum mechanics in the first place.
The universe didn’t see things that way. I was still convinced that timelines did exist where human history had played out differently, but they were lost among the much more common worlds where life had never made it past the microbial stage, or where life had formed but had taken a completely different path and nothing remotely human ever appeared. It turns out that the evolution of multi-cellular life is a very low probability event and the evolution of intelligence lower still.
Another low probability event was the collision of the proto-Earth with a stray Mars-sized planet that resulted in the formation of the moon and the stripping away of a large fraction the early Earth’s volatiles. Hence most versions of Earth were covered in vast, deep oceans.
“Would you like some coffee?” said Marta, startling me. She’d opened the door very quietly. Stealthily, one might say, like a spy.
“No,” I said. “I won’t need any help today, Marta. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?”
She smiled. “Oh, I’d love that! But I just can’t. Too much paperwork.” She shook her head in mock sadness at the mock paperwork, then left. I got up and locked the door, feeling certain that she had a key and that she was going to call Art as soon as she got to her desk. Damn it!
I’d gotten good at scanning universes–or at least the tiny piece of each universe I could see through the gate–very quickly. Panic made me want to just start scanning and keep doing it until they broke down the door and dragged me out, but reason reasserted itself. When searching infinity, how fast you do it is irrelevant.