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The Gate

I don't know when it was that I first began to guess. There were a lot of little clues, but they were the sort of clues that I had to ignore, or think that I was going crazy. According to my calculations, almost everyone makes three or more ``measurable'' transitions in an average lifetime of seventy years; naturally there are a few who make a lot more. We hear their stories and call them mad.

If you are old enough to read this, you have quite probably already made one jump. Still, you don't dare admit it, even to yourself. Instead you write off the discontinuity as being due to a hangover, or as a mental lapse on your part, or you deliberately ignore it because it never happened, right? I just jumped far enough, often enough, so that for me the idea of the jump became undeniable, however much I wanted to deny it at first.

My suspicions actually began as a sort of fantasy that was associated with some research I was doing. I am a quantum mechanic (a theoretical physicist, rather, or was then) and I was studying certain quantum systems where there are a large number of accessible states, all very close together and different only infinitesimally. So, naturally enough, I meditated briefly upon an extended version of the ``many worlds'' interpretation of quantum mechanics, which, at the time, I most certainly did not subscribe to.

In the version I envisioned, the different space-time manifolds were not cleanly distinct but rather existed in bundles that were essentially indistinguishable as long as one moved from one to another "close by". By postulating a rather weak coupling between manifolds, I was able to deduce a ``super quantal'' structure that was very similar to the quantum structure of certain optical systems, including the ones I was studying. The theory was interesting because it was characterized by a peculiar set of recursive commutators that allowed for transitions between distinct manifolds and at the same time seemed to describe a kind of ``gravity''. But it was only a mental and mathematical game.

A trait of physicists (if I may make an observation about that rather unusual species after having been a member) is that, once they make a hypothesis, however trivial, they cannot help but deduce the consequences. Furthermore, once they deduce the consequences, they keep a sort of subconscious eye open to see if they are borne out. Ninety-plus percent of the time, of course, the ideas are nonsense and have precious little bearing on reality.

The curious, no, the literally unbelievable thing was that little correlations, coincidences if you will, between this novel ``theory'' and my life kept turning up, starting right after we moved into the house by the lake.

I had gotten a nice job in one of those small, eastern Universities that let you do research as long as you teach a few classes, and used funds generated by a long term expectation of employment to buy what was, for me and my wife, Julie, a dream house. In other words, we borrowed money to the hilt but figured that with two good jobs (my wife is, was, an investment banker) we would stay afloat and float we did.

The cottage itself was perfect: made out of grey fieldstone mottled with every shade of rust and lichen, a hundred years old but recently redone, with a woodstove and a huge timber mantle above which I could hang my swords and, best of all (to me) a genuine twenty-five acre lake that used to be a quarry on the property. It was private and it was ours and I could fish whenever I liked and we could both swim in the summer and the only problem I foresaw was that it was so idyllic that I would never get any work done, but Julie just laughed and hugged me and said that she'd make me work. She wanted the house as much as I did; there was a study for me, an office for her, and a library for both of us, as well as room for us (and our projected 3.5 offspring) to grow.

I think that my greatest regret is never getting to see those offspring. I may (or may not) have sired any along towards the end, but if so the others, the many others who traded existences with me as I began my random wanderings, must have had the joy of raising them.

Anyway, we had recently moved in, and I was already in the habit of fishing in the quarry lake every evening for an hour or so -- I am an absolutely avid fisherman, as will be made clear on these pages. Julie often came wandering up the path to the quarry cliffs over the lake with a beer in her hand after she got home and we'd sit together for a while in the sun on the lazy summer evenings. Sometimes we'd make love all rolled up in a fuzzy blanket we kept in a waterproof locker out there (our property was very private), sometimes I'd catch a fish, and then we'd go back to the house and have a quiet supper together.

One evening (about six happy months after we moved in but I don't remember the exact date) I was working on the problem in quantum optics in at the department and got just incredibly frustrated by the intractable algebra, so I quit a little early and went home to fish in the pond as this was a great way of clearing my head (excuses, excuses). Getting my fishing stuff out of the shed, I tripped and gouged the new paint on the door with my tackle box (nearly gouging me as well), but since there was nothing I could do about it then I shrugged and went down the path through the woods to the lake. When I got there, it was one of those magical afternoons when the sky is too blue to be real, the air is perfectly still, there is an expectant hush that mutes even the birds and katydids.

The path from the house emerged from a sparse wood into an open spot at the top of a low cliff above the water. A trail led from it down to a jumble of massive boulders that entered the water quite steeply. I usually stood on the boulders and fished because it was easy to land the occasional bass I caught. Today, however, the water was as still as a mirror and the afternoon sun made the bottom of the cliffs into a reflector oven, as the cliff faced almost due west. I was also a little bored with the spot, so I started walking around the pond on a narrow path looking for a new spot to fish from.

About a quarter of the way around the ``lake'' (really only a pond -- it was only a hundred and fifty yards across, give or take) on the south side, I found a place where I could walk without too much difficulty over to a large rock that jutted out and hung about six feet over the water. It had a natural throne worn into its side and from it I could cast into the shadows of the west bank, which had a sandy shore with weeds just starting to show above the surface and reefs just offshore consisting of the body of an abandoned pickup truck and piles of rubble, just visible on the edge of the drop into the hundred-foot depths of the main quarry. Small schools of drifting shad rippled the water of the shallows. My eyes lit up and I set up my metal tackle box, my net, my beer cooler, and my stringer where I could reach all three from a relatively prone position, and began working the shoreline with a slow spinner.

On my tenth cast I nailed the biggest bass I have ever caught. It broke water in a spectacular arc and danced on its tail, then dove and made a frantic rush through the still cool water of late spring for the sharp rocks that lined the edge of the quarry. With difficulty I checked its rush and turned it out to the still, deep waters of the middle. There I let it take line against the drag, knowing the bottom was far, far down.

It came back up like a rocket and I took back my line as fast as I could and it exploded four feet into the air, shaking its head to dislodge the hook as the inevitable bulge of slack appeared in the line. I worked frantically to keep the line taut, certain that I had lost it, but all of a sudden the line grew tense again and the drag screamed as the fish ripped for the other shore.

That run was not its last, and largemouth bass tire slowly in the cool waters of springtime, but twenty minutes later the fish allowed herself to be led peacefully enough into the net. She had a gut like a softball, a mouth like my mother-in-law (complete with the sharp little teeth) and the rainbow green and black color of holly leaves in winter. She was so beautiful she brought tears to my eyes. (I know this sounds nuts to those of you who don't fish, but some of you will understand.)

So, even though there was a space on that wall above the woodstove (between my swords) that was crying to be filled with a stuffed bass, I offered a brief prayer to the God of all fisherman and a few words of thanks to the fish herself (who was probably gravid, after all) and released her without handling her at all, since the hook came out the instant she was lifted by the net. She had to weigh ten pounds.

I always thought mounted bass looked all plastic and kind of stupid, anyway.

I was too busy to be trembling with excitement when I played the fish (wasn't I?) but after I let her go I started shaking like the proverbial leaf, so I lay back on the throne of rock and let the singing in my ears and the glitterings of the sun on the small baitfish in the rocks and my general feeling of utter contentment lull me into a sort of trance. In my reverie I drifted back to my problem in physics (I often do this when I am fishing, or dreaming, or doing nothing at all) and was considering the time evolution of coherent states, mentally going over the transitions again and again when of a sudden a breeze sprang from nowhere.

Now, I know. Breezes don't spring from nowhere. There is a continuity equation. I could even write it down for you. But this one seemed to, because the trees on all sides of the lake remained still, and the woods remained silent, even while I felt a fairly stiff breeze that seemed to swirl around the throne I sat in. It was like being inside a dust devil without dust.

The breeze was hot, too, much hotter than the air, which was still cool. The sun seemed to sparkle and glimmer off of the water, which was also passing strange because I was, recall, on the south side of the lake in the afternoon and the water was like glass. I felt slightly giddy, and for one brief moment experienced a rush, like vertigo or bad drugs or the flu and then the breeze died down, the day was as it was before, and I felt a little tired and didn't need to fish anymore.

So I went back down to the house, still sort of glowing with pride in the fish and the joy of being alive.

And the damn gouge I had put in the door to the shed wasn't there.

Oh, it was there, sort of, at least there was a slight depression that appeared a bit scuffed. But I distinctly remembered cutting the paint and gouging the wood bare with the metal edge of the tackle box. I know I cut the paint; it had pissed me off because it meant another trivial chore for the weekend. But the dent in my door looked like it had been made by the edge, not the corner, of the tackle box, and there was no bare wood. It was the difference of a few degrees in impact angle, an easy mistake to make especially when in a hurry to go fishing. So write it off, try to ignore the strip of soft, white latex paint and the tiny wood splinter still stuck to the sharp metal corner of the tackle box that didn't come from anywhere on this door.

Sound familiar? Something like that happen to you one time? Well, like I said, the odds are that it has happened to you, and will happen again. What do you do when it does? You ignore it. You have to. We are trained, from an early age, to believe that the world as it is now is inevitably, causally linked to the past, so if there is no gouge than there never was because if there was, then it would still be there. Unless you are going crazy, which of course you aren't.

So I ignored it, shaking my head at my obvious mistake. I went in and had a glass of cold water, and forgot the whole thing. Two days later I had a mild intestinal bug and couldn't go into work. A week after that I caught a cold, of all things, though I hadn't had a cold for years. That summer and fall I was continually sick with little things, things healthy people are resistant to, even though I had always been a healthy person.

That was the first time, it is pretty clear in retrospect. Then there was the second time, the third time, the fourth time. God knows how often I stepped though the door into a different house that first year. The gate between worlds on the rock was immensely unstable, and after I caught that big bass there I fished from there a lot!

I experienced enough unusual things there that I began to fear that I was epileptic, or schizophrenic, or just plain crazy. The light sometimes seemed to do strange things as I sat on my throne, with a hellwind blowing from nowhere, casting a lure into the darker crannies and reefs of the cliffs to my left.

To get to the new spot one had to wade through some blueberry bushes. Julie picked up a tick from them that bit her (never mind where) the first time she walked through the woods over to the new spot; after that she never came down to visit me (even though I trimmed the brush out of the path so she wouldn't get another tick) but would sit and sun herself, sometimes naked, on the other cliff nearer our house where I could see her. Eventually she would tease me or entice me, and I would pretend to sneak up on her and we would roll and tussle and love. It was a marvelous summer.

Even so, it seemed to me at the time that Julie was changing in subtle, almost indefinable ways. She complained that sometimes she could hardly see me on my throne; I blended in to the rock too much and the sun was in her eyes, somehow, even though it wasn't. I know that she never really guessed what happened at the rock but women often have an intuition that men often lack or learn to ignore (to my experience at least, with no sexism intended) and I am sure that something about the rock scared her. Sensible person, my wife was. Is.

I noticed a number of peculiar things about the house. Hooks in the kitchen seemed to migrate slowly but surely across the wall, but there was never any sign of a filled hole. A light bulb that popped when I turned it on in the morning lit for a second, then popped again when I forgetfully turned it on that evening. An envelope that I would leave at a certain spot on a dresser would be in a similar, but not identical, spot when I would go upstairs to change clothes after fishing in the evenings. And Julie started treating me differently, in small ways.

We started having fights about nothing. I would remind her of a particularly romantic thing she said a few days earlier and she would deny having said it. And mean it. I would ask her about the movement of things in the house and she would look at me as if I were a lunatic, which of course I feared I was and so I would respond a little defensively and she would explode. And sometimes, in the dead of night, I would wake up to hear her weeping and she would say that I had changed, that I wasn't the same and I would hold her and rock her and everything would be all right for a while.

Sometimes it would rain or I would be too busy to fish or I would fish off of one of the other points around the quarry for a few weeks running and things would relax and be good between us again. And then another one of those golden days would come and everything would be crazy for a while.

And I was always sick. It's probably a good thing, too, because being sick kept me off of the rock and slowed my steady passage across the universes that neighbor the one I started from. Winter helped too, since I hate to fish when it's cold. Julie and I grew pretty happy again that second winter, even after the disappearing gouge incident and least four others that I can identify ex post facto, because there are small compensations in your lover always being slightly different and new and because I had time to grow close to, well, call her Julie six.

On another front, my research had been going well, both in my real problem and my fun one. I worked out on paper the consequences of a locally coherent bundle of universes, each with four space-time dimensions and separated by (at least one) fifth dimension. Introducing a weak, short range coupling, dependent on the separation distance in that fifth dimension allowed (according to the rules of quantum physics) for interaction and transitions between universes at defects in a field of points of maximum congruence (and hence interaction strength). Somehow I was still managing to ignore or block on the parallels between these toy predictions and my life.

For example, all the ``nearby'' universes must be very nearly alike. That is so they are ``indistinguishable'' quantum mechanically and can form an extended quantum state. Small differences do occur as the universes dynamically fluctuate, but these ``defects'' tend to get damped out in time because of the stabilizing effect of interuniversal gravitational interaction. But when one gets far enough away, the small differences add up and are no longer damped out, the same way the earth (or space-time manifolds) looks flat close up but bends appreciably if you go far enough around it.

Sometimes, however, the defects are topologically stable (solitons, for those of you who understand what that means) and extend across a whole sheaf of universes and create a local congruency with a relatively long lifetime, measured in seconds or longer. These function as gateways between the universes, because objects in these defects are literally ``smeared'' (quantum mechanically) across the band of universes participating in the defect and an object from one of them can be left in any of them when the fluctuation finally damps out, as long as certain quantities are approximately conserved during the exchange.

Deterministic chaos ensures that small changes propagate into big changes, and big changes tend to be excluded from the participating bundle. Consequently the universes into which one is most likely to jump are usually about the same, at least macroscopically. This is why most people never notice even a fairly significant jump - there may be no differences anywhere you are at all likely to look.

As you jump farther (possible at points where the defects are stronger and more stable) the microscopic changes build up and macroscopic changes start to become evident. One of the first places one might expect to see measurable changes after a jump would be in enteric bacteria, common viruses, and other rapidly changing small systems. I got sick an awful lot that year, probably because my immune system was continually being exposed to new variants of common bacteria. This is probably the origin of one or two of the worst plagues in history, as well.

Imagine a few rats carrying fleas carrying a common bacillus from a world where it is fairly harmless to a world where it is deadly. Add the fact that to this day there are two strains of the same species of rat (city rattus and country rattus) that do not willingly interbreed, and that one of them is much more immune to bubonic plague than the other. There is no reason that a rat could not make the same journey that I have made so many times.

Or even a green monkey carrying a new version of a common green monkey disease (now) called HIV, lost unimaginably far from its original Africa.

Draw your own conclusions...

Mass-energy and momentum (as well as a slew of other quantities) must also be conserved by inter-universal transitions (at least in the simplest versions of the theory, which assumes various global symmetries). The easiest, though not the only, way to do this is to trade equal and opposite masses, but if the universes outside the defect region are different then even two ``Sam Foster''-s (that is my, our, name) have slightly different quantum numbers. So the two universes also exchange enough air molecules, dust molecules, and photons to balance out things to within the uncertainty limit, which itself depends on the global interaction strength and the local congruence of the sites. Hence the hot, strange and spinning (forgive the pun) hellwinds. Presumably, for every exchange I experienced before the last one, ``I'' experienced it both ways.

It is one thing to have a lurking suspicion and to repress it, which I did less and less successfully as the year wore on. It is quite another thing for a professional physicist to make a public statement that is tantamount to claiming that a physics of ``magic'' exists. For if energy is conserved but forms and structures are exchanged, then entropy is transferred from one universe to another (irreversibly?) and the good old second law of thermodynamics will never be the same. It is still there, of course, but now the total entropy, not of the universe but of the multiverse, must increase or remain the same in time. All I need, therefore, is to find a nice, cold, heat sink of an infinite universe elsewhere and I'll build you a perpetual motion machine in this one, right folks? And that's magic.

Wrongo. No sane physicist would ever make a statement like that without:

  1. a hard, mathematically correct theory, that, among other things...
  2. is totally consistent with all "known" laws and incontrovertible predicts some reproducible and otherwise inexplicable experimental observations and...
  3. the new theory will still not be generally accepted and believed until all the old physicists who will never understand it have passed away.

You think that's cynical? You don't believe me? Look at Einstein and relativity. It took a generation to be accepted and I'm sure many a physicist of the old school went to their death bed with ``rubbish'' on their minds if not their lips. Look at Einstein himself and quantum theory, where he went to his death not believing in it because he never could conceptually reconcile quantum theory and causality.

No sir-ee. Even though I began to see certain connections, they were just enough to make me publish my quantum optics results (prematurely) and start devoting full time to the algebra of the multiverse and not nearly enough for me to announce those connections as results in and of themselves. Still, every time I would work out a new result and think of experimental consequences and recognize them in old stories, in history and in myth, in the news and in urban legend, my level of paranoia would infinitesimally increase. The only thing I hadn't done is connect the theory, my personal experiences, and the rock.

Then one day I had no choice.

It was in every way the most insane day of my life. The only reason I didn't literally lose my mind or my life is because I was fortunate enough to have worked out a logical, consistent physical framework that was capable of explaining it beforehand. It didn't make the end result easier to live with.

It was a Saturday. The end came when I had a crazy fight with Julie, or more correctly with Julie Ten (at least) as I estimate it from my reconstruction of the most distinct discontinuities in my life, but that isn't really how the day began. I'll try to explain.

I was, of course, getting a fair distance off track from my original world. Jumps five through eight were disturbing because the Sam Foster who used to inhabit the worlds in which I landed was not as nice a guy as I was. Am, I hope. I know he wasn't as nice because the department chairman was no longer talking to me by world nine, and our bank account was strangely smaller, and from the looks of the house and my alter ego's fishing tackle he wasn't as neat. At least he took good care of his (my!) swords. Then Julie Ten made him (me!) take them off the living room wall. The bitch. Though it probably wasn't her fault.

For one brief moment I was so mad that I wanted to strangle her, paradoxically because I loved her so much and was beginning to realize that Julie One, my ``real'' Julie, was somehow beyond my reach forever, and I was stuck with a woman who was some sort of strange imposter, like the one I knew and yet unlike her as well.

But this must be confusing to you. Allow me to apologize; it was confusing to me, too, and even now it is none too clear in my mind. I will try to explain.

By midsummer of our second year in the house I was losing my mind and Julie was threatening to divorce me if I didn't see a shrink, if I didn't grow up, if I didn't oh why couldn't I be the way I used to be? The worst part of it was, we still loved each other desperately and neither of us really understood what was wrong, because it was literally beyond our rational comprehension. The cause of our difficulties seems obvious in retrospect, but each time I passed through the gate that first year things were so nearly the same that I couldn't quite make myself believe they were actually different.

Anyway, to placate Julie (and because I was more than a bit concerned about my own sanity anyway) I went to see Dr. Ahrens, my internist, for a referral. I started by explaining everything to her and asked her frankly if I were going crazy. She looked at me a bit oddly (not a terribly comforting thing to do, but consistent with my concern) and proceeded to give me the most thorough physical I'd ever had. She then closely questioned me for another hour about everything: about my work (she made me explain in detail, and appeared to actually understand at least the general idea of it all), about previous visits and my medical history, and curiously, about my dental history as well.

I found myself a week later back in her office bringing her copies of my old dental x-rays along with new ones of both my teeth and my nose - I'd broken it once playing pickup basketball. I also brought along a strange collection of objects from the house - one of my old college textbooks, my birth certificate, an old jacket I hadn't worn (or had cleaned) for a year or two. I even had to give her a set of my finger and footprints, and let her lab draw more blood than I could have imagined for every test under the sun. It was more like she was verifying my identity than my sanity, very strange.

Several weeks later, she called me and and sat me down and said ``Sam, you are not crazy. That's the good news.''

``So what's wrong with me? Why are all these weird things happening?'' I replied.

``I'm not certain. Well, I am certain of one thing. You are who you are, but not who you were. There is probably some sort of explanation for it, but I don't know what it is. I have seen it before, though.''

I mentally added Dr. Ahrens to the list of people whose sanity I doubted. Her and me, that made two. ``What do you mean, I am who I am - that sounds a bit crazy. It's not helping, that's for sure,'' I replied cautiously.

``I'll be frank with you. I have a friend who does forensics over in the state office. I sent him a sample of your blood and your old jacket and asked him to run a DNA test on the blood and any hair or other cells he could recover from the jacket. He had one of his interns do it for the practice, and then did it again himself when he got the results.''

``What were they?'' I asked, thoroughly confused.

``They were impossible, that's what. He said that there was a ninety-seven percent chance that the hair and blood came from the same person, which was just wrong. The tests they ran should have given a confidence factor well over ninety-nine percent or shown that you were a relative, say a brother, or a cousin. You had almost exactly the same DNA as the hair - too close for it to have come from any relative but an identical twin (and you don't have any identical twins, do you Sam?)'' she asked, peering at me again over her glasses. ``Too far for it to have been from you, unless you've, well, mutated in the meantime. Have you?'' She looked at me again.

``Huh?'' I asked.

``Mutated?'' She replied.

``Uh, I don't think so. I'm not that kind of physicist.''

``Well, I've also looked at your x-rays and your various prints and compared them to your birth footprints and fingerprints another friend of mine found on the slicker sheets inside your textbook. I assure you that they are just like your DNA. They are too close together for you to be anybody else but they are not the same. I've looked over your physical results and you've grown half an inch since your first visits according to both our records and the records of your previous internist, most unusual in someone at age thirty. With your scars and blood work, it is harder to say. I didn't stitch up your various wounds over the years, and the variation in your chemistry is within the bounds of normal, but - again, they collectively are just different enough to be not exactly you, but probably not anybody else.''

``What exactly does that mean?'' I grumbled. ``How can I be different? I don't feel any different. I'd remember any changes. And I haven't grown any for years,'' I added, a bit uncomfortably. My pants were all just a bit short on me - Julie had remarked on it and I'd chalked it up to shrinking in the laundry, which of course had provoked another fight since she did the laundry and I did the folding.

``I have no idea. I'm just telling you the results of my tests. Oh, and the personality inventory and screening tests that I had you take are all perfectly normal - you are as sane as I am. In addition, you seem to be in exemplary, near perfect, health. You are also, however, a scientist. I'm simply communicating to you as a scientist the scientific conclusions of a small series of tests that I've done and had done. Here are the actual reports. Make of them what you will,'' she replied.

``Ah, yeah, OK.'' I reached out and took a folder that she pushed across her desk at me. My hair was standing up in hackles on the back of my neck. ``So what should I do?'' I asked.

``I have no idea, I'm sorry to say. I cannot begin to guess what the cause of your current state of being you but not quite you, or at least not the you that you used to be, is. On the other hand, I do think, from what you've told me, that you should avoid fishing for a while. The one common factor in all of the original incidents you described to appeared to be fishing, and there were no incidents during the last winter. Do you fish in the winter?''

I shook my head no, in a daze.

``So try to give it up, or at least, do a bit less of it, while we think on this further. OK?''

This was a pretty tough prescription, actually, given that it was the middle of summer and prime fishing season. However, I was way behind in my work anyway (not a healthy thing for somebody gunning for tenure), I clearly needed to spend more time with Julie, the house and garden needed work. The one exception I begged of her is that I was getting ready to leave on a vacation that was supposed to involve a lot of fishing.

She thought about it, and said, ``An interesting experiment. Is it fishing at home, or fishing in general? Is it being outdoors? Well, I can't keep you from being out of doors, I suppose, and you'll be in another state altogether so the trees and pollen and so on will be different. She looked over her reading glasses at me one final time, ``Let's say `no fishing at home' for the time being, but you may fish on your vacation trip. We'll look into this further at your next checkup, if no further `incidents' have occurred.''

A few months later I was actually getting along with Julie (nine by my retrospective count) quite well. The time I'd taken off from fishing had been well spent; the department chair and my personal banker were no longer looking through me when we met in the street.

All of this had taken a lot of work and a fair amount of my boyish charm, and of course I hadn't had a chance to go fishing up at the throne in the meantime. I had, of course, not given it up. Who listens to their internist about not fishing as a cure for slipping sanity, for gosh sake? The few times I had snuck out I just fished at the base of the cliff and made love to my wife at the top, just like the old days. It was, if anything, better than the old days (our lovemaking) which I attribute to the little surprises in each other's style that were, after all, quite genuine. I mean, we really hadn't been married for five years.

Perhaps, subconsciously, doctor's orders or not, I had started to fear the rock. If flatworms can be conditioned, why not me?

At any rate, the fear wore off by exactly that Saturday. I got up early, leaving Julie sleeping peacefully after a literally marvelous evening that began with us having dinner with friends and culminated in a two-hour sex marathon with Julie, who lost her inhibitions with the wine (she didn't have many inhibitions to start with) after which we fell asleep in each other's arms. I felt so good that I thought that I would go catch us some quick breakfast, fillet it and fry it and serve it in bed.

So I took my pole and a shiny new fishing stringer, picked up our boom-box radio on impulse, and without exactly meaning to found myself sitting on the throne with the rising sun casting beautiful beams through the trees and down onto the water before I knew it. I turned on the radio, draped the stringer around my feet, and cast my lure. The radio played some golden oldies and I caught a fine big bass to fillet for breakfast, and decided to try just two or three more casts. My lure hit the water, sunk into the rocks of the reef, and promptly got hung up.

On this morning, it couldn't get me down. The radio was playing the Grateful Dead (Casey Jones) and I slacked up the line and reached over to move the radio, which I'd kicked over into a small puddle of water left from rain the night before. My bare foot was standing on the tie-down for the stringer, which was itself fastened to a spike I had driven into a crack in the rock. My intention, I suppose, was to get up and perform the usual ritual of whipping the line back and forth from a standing position, give up, break off, and cruise on home to my lovely wife.

What happened instead is this: as I touched the radio, there was a shriek of static, a banshee howl from the speakers that exploded through the quiet morning. The line from my fishing pole, which I was watching, popped gently back into my face, cut off a few feet from the pole tip. There was no sign of the rest of the line -- it merely vanished. It did not simply snap into the water. It was not taut and it would not have sunk that fast...

But hell, that was nothing, really. I could probably have rationalized that, with or without Dr. Ahrens. Haven't you, at least once? Sure, ten or more times was wearing me thin, but the continuity of reality is the hardest habit to break - it is so much easier to believe in a discontinuity in our perceptions.

Not this time, not for me. The insane thing was that the sun jumped straight up in the sky so that the shadows I'd been so entranced by were gone. And my breakfast bass was doomed to die of starvation with a chain through its mouth, because the metal chain of the new stringer was shorn off as cleanly as a razor would have done it where it entered the water. The cut edges, when I lifted it to look, were perfectly smooth and reflecting. My ears were ringing from a thunderclap that had seemed to explode all around me.

So all of a sudden it was ten o'clock by the sun, only my watch read six thirty, and I'd caught a fish that was undoubtedly on the bottom of a lake a universe away with a hunk of steel stringer through its mouth (I still feel bad about that bass) and the radio had switched in the middle of ``watch your speed'' to ``sometimes the lights all shinin' on me'' (from `Truckin', not `Casey Jones'). And the batteries in the radio, which were new when I left the house, seemed to be nearly exhausted.

And I was scared. Really scared.

I made a mental note never to come within fifty feet of that damn rock and scurried back to the house, telling myself that I definitely had epilepsy and must have suffered a Gran Mal seizure and it seemed to explain almost everything (except the line, except the chain, except the wind, except the thunderclap, except my DNA) except that the front door of the house was magically unpainted and peeling and the roses were dying in the garden, which was full of weeds, and when I went in my key would no longer work in the front door lock and almost got stuck in the back, and Julie was dressed up in a stained gown like a dumpy sack with curlers, smoking a cigarette, and taking down my swords.

And she doesn't/didn't even smoke, would rather die than wear anything with a stain on it, even in the house, and had had a rather short, straight haircut that I'd run my fingers through repeatedly only the night before. And as soon as she saw me, the yelling began. Screaming, I mean.

Understand, I was a very frightened man. I was in the process of realizing that I was lost in a way that no one had ever been lost before, so lost (by my rough calculations) that my unguided odds of making it back to that same region of the infinite dimensional unit hyperspherical surface of the multiverse that represented my old Julie (any of them) and house were approximately one in ten-to-the-tenth factorial or so. And I was still relatively ``close'' because the universe was still recognizable.

So I yelled back. If I had been alone I probably would have gibbered and danced around, too.

I should explain about the swords; they were some of my most valued possessions. One had been given to me by my college fencing coach after I swept the NCAA national championships in foil, epee, and saber, and before I declined a spot on the Olympic team to go to graduate school. My fencing coach was from the old country (France) and had learned to fence from his grandfather as soon as he had learned to walk (back when Germans were prowling the streets of his village and his ``swords'' were made of wood). He himself had no sons (he was, I believe, gay) and was estranged from the rest of his family, and was going to retire the next year. In some ways, I was the son he never had, never could have had. It was a sword that had been in his family some time, and there was no one left to inherit it. It was a clean-lined, well balanced military saber from a time when swords were actual weapons and not just fancy dressing, with a silky-sharp edge and delicate tracery on the side. I didn't really deserve it (especially when I turned down the Olympics) but it was a beautiful weapon and a treasured gift.

The other sword was (to me and by me) named Julie and was a souvenir of my one trip to Europe and the Mediterranean. I had spent a small part of my trip in Egypt, and was engaged in idle conversation with one of those urbane, old money Egyptians (working as a banker employed by an international bank) in the bar of our hotel when I happened to mention that I fenced. By pure chance, his son was on the fencing team at Yale. Two un-Islamic beers later I was agreeing to come out to his house to fence with his son as part of the entertainment for a party he was giving the following day.

I know I'm crazy, but I love to fence. I also love to party, especially for free in foreign ``society'' (being the reasonably well-brought up scion of a distinctly middle-class mongrel european stock American family). Fortunately, his son didn't have his ego wrapped around his sword and lost gracefully and even acknowledged to the crowd that I was the best fencer that he'd ever met. This was helped by the fact that he had seen me fence rather spectacularly several years before when we met Yale in a match (which I, at least, won although our team lost), so we were almost acquaintances already. He then collected his American girlfriend and her business major banking-intern roommate, and me, and we went out on the town. The roommate just happened to be Julie, who just happened to be going to school a few short hours drive from where I was going to school back in the States.

We went to smoky bars and crowded bazaars, until finally he took me to see a real, live swordsmith who looked around ninety and he talked to him in Arabic and the next thing I know we're looking at these magnificent swords, real swords, fighting swords, old swords, in his back room, where I was permitted to handle them. The rapier fit my hand almost perfectly. The old man's eyes lit up for a moment when he saw me handle it in a few shadow parries and a lunge out of six (sexte, if you are a purist). He looked at it in my hand, felt for a moment the muscles and bone against the grip. He took it and said ``wait''. In Arabic, of course. My new friend said that wait we must.

An endless hour later (we spent the time drinking tiny, rich coffees out of thimble-sized cups served by the man's fifty year old son and the younger apprentice) the old man returned from the workshop in the back room and the sword fit my hand now like it was made for it. Some surprise, it was. It was genuine Damascus sword steel, a.k.a. watered steel, hand forged. Mohammed's ladder ran delicately up and down the blade. It probably wasn't hundreds of years old - the secrets of making watered steel had recently been rediscovered, and there is no way I would be permitted to handle a watered steel blade hundreds of years old.

Still, the old man demonstrated its suppleness by capping the tip and bending the blade with all his weight into a curve. It snapped back, perfectly straight. He performed the mystical and legendary feat of Saladin, dropping a genuine scarf (Julie's) across the angled blade, and drew it in the air (with only a small assist from his hands) so that the scarf fell to the floor in two pieces.

There was nothing to do but put it on Visa, although he would have preferred cash (and it would have been considerably cheaper).

It took me two years to pay it off (it cost a lot), but I never regretted it. That day gave me the company of two beautiful women, one of strong steel and one of still stronger flesh and blood.

The sword from my fencing coach was important to me, a trophy and a gift from a man who looked on me as his son. The sword from Egypt was a living thing. It was Julie, a symbol of my wife, my life - my sword.

So when Julie Ten was taking them both off of the wall, it wasn't just about a disagreement on interior decorating, it was Arabic Divorce. (I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee. That's all it takes.) We threw things (not at each other) and broke things and finally I was no longer really me but was my adrenalin and my fear and I realized I might actually hurt her or say something so bad we couldn't patch it up later (did I want to patch it up later?), so I stormed back out, grabbed my hat and fled up the path back to the lake to cool off.

Even then I might have made it back to Julie One, or at least I might have made a go of it there (for I could have loved even this stormy Julie Ten, I think, once I had patched up the sins of my predecessor with her) if I had not taken the path to the devil's throne to sob out my grief. A wind had sprung up, no hellwind this, but a summer thunderstorm that somehow expressed my anguish. Only the cold rain streaming down my face and my still bare feet in the puddle and a bolt of lightening too close for comfort brought me to myself. And in that brief instant I fully, intellectually, confronted the truth.

The world went white as lightening struck, I still don't know, me or the rock or both, or more likely than either the trees nearby - it didn't take a lot of current to create the gate and a direct hit by lightning would have pushed me a long way. The world went mad in a totally eerie silence as I found myself un-electrocuted, sitting in the sun beneath a cloudless sky on that damned throne in the center of a small, localized tornado that still contained drops of water that spattered, briefly, down into the lake. The hellwind.

I think I gained or lost another few hours of time on the transition (the storm was clearly over, or hadn't begun), but it didn't matter. All that mattered was the grim, grey corpse of Julie Eleven, the last Julie, that I found swinging back and forth from the cunningly and cutely exposed kitchen rafters that we had both loved when we first saw the house. Who'd have thought that a heavy duty extension cord could be strong enough to support even her delicate weight?

The inquest did not go well. The house was full of evidence of our battle, and Julie Eleven had several suspicious bruises, and they obviously didn't think that it was suicide, though they clearly felt that they could not prefer charges immediately. But then, why should they? I was a physicist; I could not run and hide in South America like some common hoodlum. They simply said little and let their eyes speak instead, all the while collecting physical evidence. Could they have a blood sample please? Of course. Is that skin underneath her fingernails?

They thought that I was guilty as hell, and if I wouldn't confess they would build a case that would convince twelve good persons. A few things kept them from arresting me on the spot: a stool in the right place, the angle and type of the knot, and a half-empty bottle of vodka that I clearly hadn't been drinking (they checked). Also, my knuckles were unskinned and my skin unscratched (and yes, they immediately took the trouble to find out in considerable detail, even though they found the result more than a bit puzzling).

The only trouble is, they were probably correct. I looked myself on the evidence of her naked body in the morgue, with the sheriff looking through my eyes into my soul and the medical examiner detailing in cold, precise terms the nature and extent of her bruises. The other Sam had at least struck her, struck her many times. Perhaps he gave in to that impulse that I had quelled by flight and cold-bloodedly strangled her with a cord and strung her up before fleeing, himself, to the rock. In that case, I fared better than he in spite of being cast far beyond the reach of my original Julie, for if he escaped the lightening bolt that triggered the exchange transition he had to face again, alive, the woman that he had murdered but moments before.

How many who have sought such a second chance have ever received it? I just pray to the God of all Universes that he took advantage of his opportunity and at least let Julie Ten live. If he learned wisdom from the guilt and horror I hope he felt for his murder, he might even try to win her back, but I no longer claim to know the former possessor of my flesh on that world. He remains a stranger to me, and Julie Eleven whose blackened face still sways before me in my nightmares was also a stranger to me. I never really knew them at all except from the detritus of their lives.

As soon as I was free I made an urgent appointment with Dr. Ahrens. I crossed my fingers and prayed that the Dr. Ahrens of this plane had been visited by my counterpart here and would understand my predicament. She hadn't, quite - but the changes were by now so profound that she was easy to convince. Burn scars from one of his drunken accidents don't just ``go away'', and neither does liver disease and cirrhosis. Besides he was a full inch and a half shorter in the leg than I was and wore a completely different shoe size - too much to ignore - although fortunately he was still a fencing champion and the local equivalent of my swords were still on the floor where they were dropped when the argument began.

Once she understood the situation, she was my most valuable, my only ally. For starters, she wrote me a set of prescriptions, over a few weeks, for a variety of antibiotics and other medications when I explained what I was about to do, forging symptoms for a set of interesting ailments to keep herself out of trouble should the prescriptions be investigated. Later she helped me make certain purchases that would have resulted in my immediate arrest (and eventually almost did). I hope that her role in this wasn't discovered and that she remains free, as she was a marvelous person and a great doctor.

I didn't have much time. Sam Foster here had not gotten very far with his notes of my theory. There were many mistakes and it was clear that they were largely because of his drug and drinking problem. I flushed his stash of cocaine (which was fortunately missed by the police), drank his beer in moderation, and ignored his far-too-large booze supply altogether. I had to redo a lot of work, and fill in many details, which now was easy for I firmly believed in what I was doing. I refused to go out on the rock, but I ``borrowed'' electronic equipment from the physics department and measured the unusual electromagnetic field around the rock, caused partly by the metal deposits and quartz crystal veins within it and partly by the acid rain and leftover chemicals in the lake that made the rock a giant, low frequency oscillator driven by a chemical battery.

There was also a gravitational anomaly there; I believe that if I had had more time I could have experimentally observed gravity waves at that site that would have won me the Nobel prize, to be awarded on death row. From a few hurried measurements with a torsional Cavendish apparatus I patched together in my garage (using some rather modern electronics) I estimated their period and the periodic fluctuations of other natural forces in the vicinity, and all of a sudden I had a burst of insight into why this gate was a gate. Sort of - I don't mean to imply that I understood it all then or even do completely now. However, to master it properly requires a lifetime of dedicated study in the right Universities. I mean a lifetime literally (true masters have several to dispose of) and I don't mean any Universities on Earth.

For the interested (skip this if physics bores you): Long wavelength electrogravitational fluctuations combine with short wavelength nuclear fluctuations (which one cannot control, but which are so rapid that achieving a phase matching doesn't take too long) to produce a unified field fluctuation, or defect (don't ask me what these ``fluctuations'' are in more detail unless you want to read about fifty pages of typeset algebra involving three theories, each of which has whole textbooks associated with it) which extended coherently across the intra-universal barrier. This defect was locally congruent and created a narrowing of the symmetry barrier that maintained the existence of more than one Universe anyway, and at those times, quantum-number-conserving exchange tunneling could and did occur as the matter in the originally distinct universal ``states'' formed a quantum mechanically correlated mixture. Since the primary modes were very broad, a relatively large volume was affected - several meters across with a boundary that was sharp on a nuclear length scale. The throne and crystals therein were the focus of the forces at play.

Big words, but what they meant was that I could control it, in a way. The mutterings around me, in town and in the department, were growing fast. I stole a few items from the stockroom in the department and bought others from Radio Shack and the web (fortunately Julie and Sam 11 had left me room on a couple of credit cards and at least some sort of bank balance and retirement money I could draw on) and got out a soldering gun and desperately tried to recall forgotten skills.

I cannibalized my obsolete battery operated laptop to make a programmable equipment controller and wrote the software I needed to run the device I cobbled together (which required careful feedback phasing and sequence timing). I assembled a ``survival kit'' under a tarp just outside the range of the gate, which was pretty clearly delineated by the edges of the cut brush and trees, once I realized what I was looking at. Using the little money I had leftover from all our accounts (naturally, Julie's not inconsiderable life insurance money was being held ``pending investigation'') I bought gold and silver and books, I printed out reams of information from useful websites. The gold was probably what forced their hand and made them come for me - when they learned of it I'm certain that they (correctly) assumed I was getting ready to run for it.

For all of that, only a lucky break that allowed me to get away.

I ran into one of the younger deputies of our rather small town outside of a sporting goods store. He sneered at me and made a comment that I was not supposed to hear to his female companion. She looked at me and said so that I could barely hear, or lip read, ``Tonight'', something something, ``for murder?'' with just exactly that expression of wide eyed horror and delight. I collected the last of my supplies and bought a couple of last minute items like extra pairs of wool socks and some packets of vegetable seeds and a case of scotch and tried very hard not to speed on the way home.

I prayed that the phase of the natural oscillations would be right because I wouldn't have a long time to wait. Working as fast as I could, I finished getting the actual apparatus set up in just over an hour (most of it was already assembled and just wasn't all hooked together), and moved the stuff from under the tarp into the gate. I defined the gate electrically with a circular coil of wire.

I was tempted to cast a pentagram inside. My research was ambiguous, but it seemed to imply that magic, and in particular five-dimensional geometry in magic, might actually be a part of physics and not ``supernatural'' at all. The pentagram is almost a projective view of a five-sided hypercube and I suspected that the symbols inscribed on the various corners and sides were actually symbolic coordinates. I had included several books on magic in my ``library'' that I was taking along, so I could see if this hypothesis made any sense - on the other side.

Instead I tested the phase and compared it to my logbook and found that I had about thirty minutes before the gate would open to anything with less energy than a lightning strike. So I walked back down to the house for the last time.

It is fortunate -- indeed, provident -- that I did. For some reason, probably a troubled one, I had completely forgotten the swords. They were still hanging in their scabbards over the woodstove where I had replaced them. I took them down and looked through the rest of the house quickly for any other such treasures I might find. There was a locket Julie once wore and an unclipped snapshot of her just after our wedding. Sure, the dress was a bit different and her hair was done differently, but it was still her, or all I was ever to likely find of her. With my eyes misted over with tears I stuffed them into my pocket, got a six pack of cold beer (which were to be my last ones for a long while) out of the refrigerator and put five of them and some other edible goodies into a cooler along with some ice, and started up the path just as dusk was starting to fall.

From the pathway, I heard car engines. From the top of the cliff edge, I could just see car lights coming down the dirt road from the highway toward the house. Two cars.

I slithered through the brush on the path around the lake as fast as I could go, spilling half my opened beer and banging the cooler somewhat painfully against my legs and trees but reluctant to let it go. There was still ten minutes to go in the phase, but I knew it would take them at least five minutes to check out the house which I had foolishly left open.

I turned the equipment on and booted up the laptop, praying to Murphy that the aging hard disk didn't pick that moment to crash. I didn't need a massive amount of energy, but I did have to provide a catalyst, a pulse of energy to actually open the gate left unlocked at that spot by nature. Since I (presumably) knew what I was doing, my organized help would create a much longer defect (in the fifth direction) and also allow me to ensure that I would jump all the way to the ``edge'' of the defect-effected sheaf of universes. This should take me much farther than the little jumps that I had made previously, just like the radio and lightening bolt had pushed me farther than the random jumps before that were powered by only the natural battery of the lake, the rusting out truck, and the rock itself.

I hoped it would push me far enough. I had no desire to jump anywhere near the two cops that I could see arriving at the top of the path on the far side of the quarry lake. If I could choose my direction I'd jump home, but I had no more than an order of magnitude estimate of the coupling constant, let alone the right ``direction''. Let alone how to pick a direction.

With one minute to go, flashlights from the top of the cliff on the other side swung out across the lake, to spear me where they could obviously clearly see me in the twilight, perched on my lonely throne. They looked at each other, considered shouting, and then instead began to move cautiously around the path toward me. Thirty seconds. I could catch an occasional glimpse of their flashlights coming through the trees as they picked out the path in the dark. The high voltage capacitor (an old-fashioned, home-made Leyden jar) was fully charged and starting to crackle a little. I prayed that it would not discharge until asked. The display on the computer screen automatically synced in to the building phase and began to count down the last seconds. As the rest of the apparatus tuned in the gate, I began to feel it.

The hellwinds began to blow, gently at first, being sucked out of a myriad of universes. I felt that hint of vertigo associated with having your matter spread out between worlds, a whole human behaving like a delocalized electron in a crystal but remaining aware at the same time. The gate was open, and would remain open for about twenty more seconds. During that time, nearby exchange processes were ``likely'', but that wasn't what I had in mind. The computer automatically swept the frequency selectors of the broad band transmitter, modulating the carrier and reading all the jury-rigged field detectors I had hooked into it for feedback. The air around me began to shimmer, light entering from outside sparkled and fractured into a rainbow of coruscating confusion.

Through the flickering fairy mist of moisture condensing near the field boundary I could see the officers, astounded, break through the trees at last. Their faces were eerily illuminated by the brightening fluorescent white glow of the field. One of them had drawn his gun and he pointed it at me. It was the young deputy.

At last the computer threw the main relay and a huge spark leaped out and lit up the circle of wire. Instead of fading, the wire itself began to glow almost like a neon tube with a blinding violet light. Time itself began to strobe, and the running of the police was now at speed, now frozen. I sensed, rather than saw, the deputy's finger press the trigger. The actual path of the bullet was like a bumblebee flying into a gale wind. It slowed and delicately kissed the shimmering boundary of a sphere of light that had surrounded the rock while it made its way towards my head.

At that instant time stopped.

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Robert G. Brown 2007-12-29