A catastrophic failure in deep space should mean certain death. But sometimes in space, someone can hear you scream.
The Quantum Parameter
Science Fiction About Parallel Universes
by Richard Harvie
The smell. It’s the smell I’m conscious of first. Unpleasant with a hint of pleasant, like good food on the cusp of rotting. But it’s enough to start waking me up.
Which I wish I didn’t, as it heralds a wracking cough, so hard I feel the metallic blood welling at the back of my throat. I try to sit up, but find it’s a struggle to move.
I blink my eyes open and then immediately squeeze them tight shut again.
I did not want to see that. Really.
I must be hallucinating.
But I open them again – more cautiously. The scene is still the same.
The red dust is still swirling manically outside, parting randomly and only briefly to reveal down in the pit the shattered wrecks of vehicles and plant everywhere. Upended, shredded, smoking and torn.
I know then why I am having such trouble moving – the event has disabled our gravity control. And gravity is so much more powerful out here, making every movement a struggle.
I force myself up and crawl painfully to the console, trying to ignore the liquified puddle that used to be….I don’t – can’t – think about that now.
But I need to move quickly. I clumsily pop the hatch and am immediately met with myriad blinking lights and fizzing wires. Sweating nervously, I salvage what I can, rerouting the circuits, focusing on the essentials – life support, gravity control. The nuclear power core is thankfully indestructible and its shield intact. I sigh with relief when all of a sudden my movements become instantly lighter as the artificial gravity reactivates.
‘Thank God for that!’ comes a voice.
I turn around and see her.
‘You’re alive,’ I say, immensely grateful.
‘Barely,’ she answers.
She does look in a bad way. The blast – well it wasn’t strictly a blast – the event had torn off her left arm, but her suit had automatically sealed, its nanotechnology stabilising her body, stopping blood loss and working to counteract the effect of shock, flooding her system with enough myaphine to let her function normally. In the circumstances.
‘What happened?’ she asks.
I look around. From our vantage point high in the control tower we can see the mine has been destroyed. I look for clues.
And find one.
‘Look,’ I say, pointing.
She follows my finger and gasps.
‘Is that…?’ she begins.
But I am already grabbing my gear, checking my suit. My visor is up and I check the monitor on my wrist.
‘I’m picking up at least three Psi-gammas over here,’ I say. ‘It’s going to be stronger over there. I need to check it out.’
‘Don’t,’ she said, a note of warning in her voice.
‘It’s what we’re paid for,’ I answer.
As I leave the command module I make sure to close it firmly behind me. Statistically, we are the only survivors. Sure, the money is good and that’s why we do it. But when it goes wrong….I suppose ‘wrong’ is the wrong word, though.
I slowly climb down the ladder, my enhanced bio-suit taking most of the strain. I can see the red-dust swirling everywhere, know that it is not necessarily harmless. But I need to confirm this.
I even find myself a little excited at the prospect.
As I approach the event, I can feel – I can actually feel – the time distortion. They had warned us this was possible. Out at the edge of the observable universe, we knew the laws of physics loosened a little, the Quantum Parameter they called it.
And it seemed to have happened. My wrist-monitor goes absolutely crazy and I begin to feel my heart beat erratically. They very blood in my veins seems to be at odds as to which way to circulate. I’m not even sure if it is an illusion.
And then I see myself. Myself walking towards to me. We both know who we are. We even know where we came from. It’s just an interesting – an academic – question as to whose reality orbited into whose.
Nobody – no physicist – has ever been able to predict what would happen when parallel worlds collide.
I guess I’m about to find out.