As the story begins, we meet Detective Soma Dan, a mother of two and a homicide investigator at Helison PD, and Paul Stevens, a young man living in the southern city of Lieutenia. Both are about to have their lives upended.
people probably didn’t grow up with a memory of having visited a parallel
universe. Nathan Sanchez had. He wouldn’t have called it that at the time, but
that’s what it was.
dad had taken him along on a trip to pick up dinner at Sonic Burger. It was
hard to find those back then. It’s impossible now, obviously. Nathan couldn’t
remember what was special about their food, but had a vague notion that they
had good milkshakes.
that’s not important. After they finished at the drive-thru, Nathan asked his
dad if they were going to go back home now. He was probably just wondering if
they were going to do any other errands, get groceries on the way, something
like that. It was a long drive from their house to Sonic, all the way from San
Diego to Santee, so maybe that’s why he asked. He was only four at the time,
best he could remember, but the administrative part of his brain had become
fully active much sooner in life that in most people. Probably why he spent
most of his adult life in government.
that’s also not important. What is important is how his dad answered the
he said, drawing the word out. “We’re actually going to go to a different
home?” Nathan asked.
A house that looks just like our house, but a little different. With a mom just
like your mom, but different.”
it have a little brother?”
does! It has a little brother just like our house, but different. Everything
will look the same, but it will actually be different.”
had known his dad for all of his four years, but he still didn’t really know
him. He didn’t know he was playing a game right now. He had seen Nathan’s
simple, obvious question as an opportunity to be silly. He was practicing the
classic “yes-and” improv technique, though he didn’t know that’s what it was
called, or that it was a technique. It’s where you agree to anything your
partner says and then elaborate on it, often taking it to ridiculous extremes,
then you see where the other person takes it next. He’d probably learned it
growing up as a middle kid among four siblings, where cleverness and cunning
were critical survival skills.
didn’t know any of this. He only knew that this was his father, and that he was
strong and clever and focused. So, when he told him they were going to a house
like their house but not their house, Nathan was fascinated.
remembered pulling up to the dark driveway, looking at this house, this double.
He studied it carefully, looking for differences. The similarities were
obvious. Everything was similar. He was in awe, nearly to the point of fear.
But his curiosity was beyond all that.
parked and entered, carrying the food. The walls and the lights and the sounds
and smells were all so shockingly like those at Nathan’s home. In the family
room was a baby in a walker. It was made of four rings of red, blue, yellow,
and green, stacked up into a cone shape, with the opening in the top with the
one-year old boy suspended there where he could scoot around freely.
baby boy looked so much like Nathan’s little brother, but he was not his little
brother. It was some copy. Nathan looked closely for differences, and it looked
like the walker was worn in inconsistent ways. A different scuff here, a
different one there. The brother’s hair was different. Maybe a lighter shade of
brown. His cheeks weren’t as round. His smile a little different.
turned and saw the mother. She looked just like his mom, sounded just like her.
They all took the burgers and fries out of the bags and ate in front of the TV
and Nathan’s shock faded. He started to accept that maybe he was just going to
stay at this copied house. Maybe he wouldn’t see his real brother and mom ever
again, but these ones were pretty close. His dad definitely didn’t seem to mind
eating and getting cozy with these doubles, so maybe Nathan shouldn’t mind
either. Also, it’s amazing how eating fatty foods can calm anxieties.
Nathan was taken to a room just like his and he went to bed. When he woke up
the next morning, he was sure it had all been a dream. There wasn’t any worry
or doubt. It wasn’t until years later when he knew his dad better that he
realized it had all actually happened. That he had fully believed he’d entered
a world parallel to his own, a duplicate, slightly different.
that quick acceptance of the fantastic, and the learned mistrust that had grown
out of the later revelation of the truth, were at play now. Now, in this
imposter universe of Mebar.
acceptance was why he’d had so little trouble accepting how this new universe worked.
In many ways, it was just like the one they’d all left. He could notice the
differences here and there if he looked hard. Almost the same, but not. A world
like the one a god or fate or blind chance had created, but one instead made by
humans. Specifically, humans of the TAW organization, of which Nathan was a
leading member. Or had been.
remembered when he’d argued that calling the first world “Prometheus” was trite
and obvious. He remembered Carini telling him she was going to double
Prometheus and then mirror it to create the foundation for a pet world-building
side-project she wanted to work on with Tanaka. He remembered being doubly
annoyed when she insisted on calling that mirror world Pan to reinforce its
place as an opposite. He remembered being relieved when she let Tanaka be in
charge of naming all the cities in Pan, since he was more inclined to be clever
in such things.
was all the acceptance part. The mistrust part was why he was right now doubled
over on his hands and knees, the deep cuts all over his arms and torso bleeding
down into golden grass of a wide, dry valley. That mistrust drove him to insist
that everyone should return the real world. To leave the copy. The fraud. The
TAW’s refusal had made him feel like a child again, just along for the ride and
out of control, but he wasn’t content to accept the copy this time.
wanted to get to the door hidden in the cliff face ahead of him. Get inside and
set off the special bomb he had strapped to himself. Get inside and destroy the
control center for Prometheus and Pan and all the worlds he and his colleges
had created. But unfortunately, one of his bosses, Dawson Benet, was blocking
his path. As were two large men standing on either side of her, dressed like
Secret Service agents.
looked up at Dawson Benet, one of the four founders of the TAW. He looked at
her stern, very English face, which was beading up with sweat because she
insisted on dressing very English out here in a high desert. Neither she nor
her two bulky companions carried weapons. They didn’t need any.
“What are you going to do with me?”
Dawson shrugged. “The TAW can’t die, so I
can’t kill you.”
Nathan smiled, trying to show defiance
Dawson’s face softened. “Why do you keep
fighting us? Your insistence on going back doesn’t make any sense.”
“Because I know what you want to do. You
won’t just keep everyone here for a couple hundred years…waiting until Earth is
ready. You want to keep everyone here forever.”
Dawson frowned. “It’s not just about letting
Earth heal. Think of the resources we can put into education, now that we can
end war in a moment, without any bloodshed. Here, food shortage will become an
old legend. There will never again not be enough. Any amount of land, any
amount of resources. Any need taken care of at the moment of desire. No hunger,
no disease, any injury healed instantly, we may even be able to live forever.
This is what humanity has been searching after for its entire existence. We
finally have it. Here.”
“And you’ll of course run the place with
unwavering integrity.” Nathan chuckled. “Forever.”
Dawson folded her arms. “We’ll do the best we
“Yeah, no thanks. This world was supposed to
be a place for us to wait. Staying here indefinitely is a bad idea.”
Dawson nodded to one of the men standing
beside her. “When you see it, you’ll understand.”
The Secret Services look-alike reached out a
huge hand and grabbed Nathan around his neck. His fingers almost went all the
way around. The man lifted up Nathan off the ground and his vision closed in
around him like he was falling into a black hole.
Dawson took a step toward him as everything
faded. Before he drifted off, Nathan heard her say: “One day you’ll wake up and
see. But not for a very long time.”