Author: Joshua Fagan
After a decade spent wandering Andromeda, General Louis Patterson arrived at the conclusion that his dream of ruling an entire galaxy was nothing but a cheap fantasy, something out of the discount paperbacks he’d read as a child. Rather, it would be much more sensible to steal a remote that would allow him to enter an alternate reality where he already ruled an entire galaxy.
Sneaking into a laboratory, he chained up Carrie, the lead scientist, before taking her remote. Activating it, he saw an infinite number of universes flash before his eyes. He chose one where he could see himself draped in the adornments of power, and he rushed toward it, but before departing this universe, he saw Carrie smile. Though the secrets of trans-universal travel unfolded before him, emerald nebulas swirling through his mind, he could not unveil the mystery behind that smile.
Exotic birdsong soothed his ears as he awoke in a golden throne room, servants feeding him plump grapes. Spaceships bearing his name flashed through azure skies, bound for distant worlds. His advisers brought him maps of his empire, which extended to the far reaches of the galaxy. It was everything he wanted, but what if it didn’t last? What if there was a rebellion? What if the rebels assassinated him?
It was a possibility too terrible for him to comprehend, so he escaped this universe. Too many risks. Too many what-ifs.
The only thing better than to be obeyed like a king was to be worshipped like a god. Entering a universe where his subjects had erected cathedrals in his honor, he stared at the setting sun, believing himself its equal. He asked his nearest advisor if there were any rebellions, and she chuckled. “Of course not. Forgive me for laughing, Your Supreme Majesty, but there haven’t been any rebellions in three thousand years.” Then this was it—the universe where he would stay. His very name was synonymous with the divine, and there were no threats to his authority.
But what if that changed? There is nothing more transient than fortune. As long as he could die, he was vulnerable. There was only one solution. He created a portal and searched for a universe where he would be immortal.
Shackles covered his wrists. The musty prison air provided no comfort. Rats scurried between the bars. Filth covered the stone floor of his cell, and there was no light, save for the flashlight carried by Carrie as she descended into the prison and took the remote from his shaking wrists.
“What is this?” he asked as he coughed and choked.
She stomped on his remote until nothing remained of it but scraps of wire and cheap plastic. “Did you really think that was the only trans-universal remote?” she asked. “You’re not the only one who can travel between realities.”
Author: Bill Gillard
Vic bellied up to the counter at Plaskett’s Diner and ordered a donut and coffee, black. He smiled, waited for the waitress with the glistening bald head—to each her own—to respond with a smile at his joke, but she dropped the menu in front of him and shuffled humidly to the next customer.
Vic settled into his chair and swiveled it so he could take in the room. Ten tables all filled with the jabbering of languages he had never heard before, if that’s what they were. Some sounds were hushed like the breeze in summer leaves. The corner table buzzed and hummed like the live wires which, judging from the blue arcs dancing among those three seated lovers, they might actually be.
It had been days/weeks/seconds/millennia since Vic’s resupply interport went off course on the Orion route and found its way to Monoceros, which is the surprising location that Vic, who was still coughing up perfluorocarbon from the long dream of space travel, had to check through an actual window before he’d believe it. Nobody had ever ventured out this far—and for good reason. Human anatomy plus even a weak x-ray nova-like A0620 makes for a painful—albeit quick—death.
Nevertheless, here he was, in this diner, inexplicably, and he realized that he was hungry. He swiveled back to take a look at the menu. The donut he asked for had appeared on a black plate with a yellow rim.
He regarded the chocolate torus. There was something about that shape that reminded him of stuff he learned about at pilot school, stuff like singularities and wormholes. He closed his eyes tight.
There’s no way his little pressurized can with its third-hand negative mass thrusters and graviton sail could have avoided the event horizon of that system, the nearest black hole to Earth. He remembered waking up jarringly from the long sleep. He remembered understanding quickly how screwed he actually was. He remembered settling into his seat and cranking the music: Kevlar Medulla’s “Subtonal Opera Number I,” the favorite of his youth, to focus his mind. He remembered vague nausea and the strange blue shimmer as the starfield curved into an ever-shrinking ellipse.
And then he remembered nothing until the tinkling of this bell and the welcoming electric aroma of coffee.
Vic poked his finger through the hole of the donut and lifted it like a ring. He took a bite. Now that was real, he thought. He was sure of that.
A song came on the diner’s jukebox, that oldie by Sir Carter Knowles he used to like.
He turned again to find the room filled with people—actual human people—dressed sharp and happily eating breakfast. At the corner table sat a woman with two small boys. One boy ate oatmeal while he colored his placemat with a crayon. The other held a chocolate donut aloft on his index finger, nibbling the edge and turning it slowly.
The dress the mother wore looked so familiar. She lifted her head and, for the first time, noticed Vic.
A curious puzzlement came over her face.
She lifted her hand as if to wave, but Vic turned away in alarm.
He shook his head, dug his fingernails into each palm to try to wake up.
He took a big bite of the donut that still hung from his finger. He felt his memory, his mind, and his body stretched thin through a prism of confusion and loss.
That’s what he felt like for dinner.
Author: Ken Poyner
I do not know what I want to be today. The people who serendipitously gave me the ability to wrap ambient electromagnetism around my DNA and in seconds remake my body thought I would have a natural state, some pleasant default configuration that I would be most comfortable with. But it is all comfortable. Once my juiced DNA re-forms my body, whatever shape it is in it is still my body. Once the cells conform to the modified DNA, it is all natural.
Of course, the mental toll is the part that they did not think about.
Simply because you can do a thing, it does not make it normal or moral to do it. Take, for example, the application of bodily functions in different physiologies. For me, the whole concept of most bodily functions is transactional. Eating, elimination, sex all have more blended meanings than for uniform beings like you. Sometimes more nuanced, sometimes less. In some forms, the concept of some bodily functions does not exist at all.
When you can be anything you want to be, you have a lot to consider: what sensations and apprehensions in one form or another will you be giving up, what you will be gaining? How will it affect those around you? Imagine my wife’s surprise when mid-intimacy I suddenly changed gender the first time. Or when I decided to be with her an entirely different animal altogether. I think she wants to become a shapeshifter, too, just to dole out to me some keenly plotted emotional revenge, or maybe even gratitude.
Yes, there are already real consequences. I seldom enjoy a meal. Smells when I am in some forms are solid, sometimes a crusade of liberated colors, sometimes a fresh punch in the gut. Sometimes I have enjoyed more being a fly feasting on discards than a man retching down the formal dinner that produced those discards. You can get philosophical about it, but the reality is practical.
And none of this is your problem. You put four dollars into the slot, tell me what beast, chimera, or celebrity you want me to be. I will do my best. No guarantees. But you should hurry. I am coming to the end of my shift and the next shapeshifter scheduled for duty at this attraction is not so pleasant, and less concerned than I with accuracy. In me, you have the true professional, a principled member of my indeterminant lot. Put the plasticity of me to work entertaining the best, or worst, of your imagination.
And I do take tips.
Author: Arun Bahari
It has been four months since Mary came from her reality to this reality. The migration between alternate realities was legalized last year. There are two laws for migration. First, your alternate version should be dead, and second, you can not go to the reality where you don’t exist. These laws help for identity purposes and keeping the realities intact. Her version in this reality has died in a car accident. Her mother is dead in her previous reality, so she came here where mother’s alive.
She looks at her mother. She has seen her mother dead for a year and was devastated then. It is a second chance for her to be with her mother. In her previous reality, she had a fight with her mother just before her death. She feels guilty.
Her phone chimes. She unlocks it and sees the bold headline.
‘MASS MIGRATION DUE TO ALIEN ATTACK’.
She clicks on it to read the full news.
” Multiple realities have been attacked by hostile and powerful aliens called Naites. There are refugees coming from these realities. The department of migration is overcrowding.”
There is a knock on the door.
She opens the door and is shocked to see a woman exactly like her on the other side. It feels as if she is looking through a mirror.
A few moments of silence pass between the two.
I’m Mary,” the woman says. I am from another reality.
I know……I know come on in.
Her mother is so shocked at seeing two women exactly like her daughter it looks like she’ll have a heart attack. The other Mary has come alone, maybe no boyfriend or mother for her too.
Mom doesn’t know what to say.
Other Mary sits on the sofa.
We can’t meet or be seen together it’s against the law,” she says.
Don’t worry, due to overcrowding at the department of migration I am allowed to stay with you if it’s okay with you till a reality to my specifications can be found.
Now I understand why we can’t meet with our alternate selves, It’s awkward,” She tells herself.
A couple of days later she is talking like old friends with other Mary. It’s easier to talk with her as it feels like she is talking to herself. Even mother has become comfortable with her.
I’m an actress,” other Mary says.
She remembers her high school years when she wanted to be an actress but didn’t take that path. The idea was still in her mind. The choice which she didn’t make in the past was standing in front of her. She wonders if she is also a product of a previous choice not taken. Every alternate self from the best to worst exists and the best is in front of her where she is doing what she loves. She is feeling jealous of herself.
On the day other Mary has to leave them she says to Mary,” I know you feel a little down for not being the best version of yourself. But you have something I don’t have, a mother.
But you can migrate to a reality where mom’s not dead.
The thing is I can only go to those realities where I am an actress but mom has died in every reality where I am an actress,” other Mary says.
Anyway, what I meant by it is that everyone has lost something and for me, you are the best version. If you want we can change places.
Other Mary crosses the street and gets lost in a crowd.
Author: David Henson
I extend my personal force shield to encompass the cart when I get inside the grocery store. Heading for the bread aisle, I push a little too close to a woman. Our shields glow slightly when they graze, and we squeeze past each other like two giant soap bubbles. The woman shoots me a dirty look. I say “Sorry” even though I know she can’t hear me.
I open my portal and pull a loaf of rye into my cart then make my way around the store and down my list till all that’s left are immunity tablets for Martha. I find they’re out of the ones she swears by. There are other brands, but I don’t know which she’d prefer. The aisle is empty so I figure it’s safe to make a quick call and lower my shield. Just as Martha says hello, there’s a blood-curdling sound from the next aisle. A sneeze. I reactivate my shield, which cuts my connection with Martha.
I storm around the endcap, go to the only guy in the aisle, type Jerk on my phone and show him my screen.
He screens back: Apologies. Allergies. Not sick.
Activate your shield, Jerk.
I’m about to screen him an image of the backside of a donkey when I see a burly security guard approaching. I wheel around and head for the checkout.
Once in the car, I lower my shield, call Martha and explain what happened. She gasps when I tell her about the sneeze. I assure her I protected myself in time and tell her I’ll call again from the garage so she can shield-up before I walk in.
… Martha greets me at the door and holds up her phone with an image of lips on the screen. I screen lips back, and we put our phones as close together as our shields allow. Then I go to the UV cabinet, open my portal, and unload the groceries.
We sit back to back, our open portals pointing away from each other, and eat dinner in silence. I think we should start eating in the tv room, where we can see and talk to each other at the same time.
… After I’ve activated the room divider shield, the only one we can afford, we turn off our personal shields. “Hello, Sexy.” Martha’s voice crackles through the hard-wired intercom. She points the remote at the TV.
“Let’s not watch the news tonight,” I say. “Too depressing. Would you mind if we just talk?”
We chat about everything and nothing. Video coms are OK, but being able to see Martha’s face in person — almost in person — as I hear her voice has become one of the great joys of my life.
A couple of hours later, my wife yawns and says she’s going to bed. When we’ve both reactivated our personal shields, I turn off the room divider.
… After Martha finishes in the bathroom, I take my turn then make my way, by the soft glow of my force shield, down the dark hallway. When I get to our bed, Martha pulls back the covers. She’s naked, her body seeming to shimmer within her shield. Her portal is open. I open mine and, with some contorting, we align them as needed. It’s a risk, but one we’re willing to take.
When we’re done. Martha holds her phone to her shield and screens me a heart. I screen one back to her, close my eyes, and try to sleep.