Bob stood there for a moment staring at what looked to be himself. A slightly different version of himself, but himself nevertheless.
“What in the name of Sam Hell is going on? Where am I? One minute I’m trying to figure out what’s happened to my living room wall, the next I’m in the middle of the room looking at myself!”
“It does seem odd, doesn’t it?” replied the other self who preferred to be called “Robert.” “However, let’s see if we can make some sense of all this. I say ‘We’ when I really mean ‘You’ since I’m well aware of what has happened.
“I’m you and you’re me. The difference is that we are the same person based on different circumstances. Physicists have long postulated that at each decision point there are multiple outcomes. A Bob who became an accountant would continue down a different reality than a Bob who became, say a fisherman. There is not only one of us based on the outcome of your decisions, but an infinite number of us. I, for example, am the one who probably made all of the best decisions and fared the most successfully.
“I know that the idea of multiple branches based on which decisions were made sounds like it would be the work of philosophers rather than physicists, but the physicists explored this concept for a reason. Given that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, space travel outside our own solar system will be virtually impossible. Then someone came up with the idea that if, and initially it was a very big ‘if’ there were multiple universes that each varied only based on a single decision by a single person, those universes would seem virtually indistinguishable from one another. Instead of moving through space, one could theoretically find the location in the alternate universe and create a portal from this location in this reality to a totally different location in, say, a different galaxy in that other reality.”
“That sounds like science fiction,” Bob replied.
“An interesting point,” Robert countered. “There’s quite a discussion as to whether the science fiction writers came up with the idea first, or if it was the physicists.
“In any case, one of the corporations I own is doing research for the government. It’s ultra-secret, of course, to a point that it makes ‘Top Secret’ seem like what you’d read in the ‘National Enquirer.’ Six of the last seven presidents weren’t aware of it; the only reason one was aware of it was because he’s the person who got the project started.”
Bob counted presidents on his fingers.
“Does seem unlikely,” replied Robert, “but this science has shown that improbability is a significant factor in our very existence. In any case, I had access to the technology so I decided to try it out.”
“Excuse me for being skeptical,” replied Bob, “but if you or so rich that you own all these corporations, why are you living in the same house I do in my reality?”
Robert broke into a hearty laugh. “I don’t live here. I have sixteen beautiful homes throughout the world. Well at least sixteen, for all I know I may own more. I have a chateau in Paris, an island in the Caribbean, the top floor of a building in Beijing, well you understand. I bought this place because I needed it to connect with one of my alternative selves. The research has gotten far enough to open a portal from one reality to another but only in the same location. We have lots of work before we can open the portal in a different place. However, we’re well ahead of schedule. The project was originally expected to take at least a thousand years. We now think we’ll be moving the first travelers in as few as 300 years – in round numbers, of course.”
“Of course,” replied Bob. “You tell me that you were the one that made all the right decisions. Like what, for instance?” Bob asked as he paced and looked at Robert from different perspectives.
“Well, I married the homecoming queen…”
“You married Sally Wasserman?”
“No, you idiot, I wasn’t talking about high school. I married the homecoming queen from college. Harvard. I was attending the Harvard Business School before I went to Yale Law. She was in one of those classical liberal arts programs – you know, reading the classics in the original Latin or Greek. One of the degrees that only the obscenely wealthy have their children pursue. Her family was not only old money, but her father was an incredible business investor. He could smell out the Apples, Starbucks and Zarathustras before anyone else had even heard of them. The man had more money than God. He brought me into the family business, trained me, groomed me and mentored me. I forced him out within three years.”
“That was brutal.”
“Yes. However, I suspect that deep down inside he was actually pleased and proud of me.
“The advantage of all of this was that my marriage was solid since after he was broke she couldn’t run home to daddy if she got tired of me. In any case, my wealth and influence grew as time went on. I had to buy “Forbes” magazine because it was the only way to assure that I would never be on their cover again. I felt like the business equivalent of Jennifer Aniston.”
“All of this is fascinating,” commented Bob. “But the key question in my mind is why you went to all the trouble of bringing me from my reality to yours?”
“Yes. Of course. As I said, all of this is obvious to me and I sometimes forget that it isn’t equally obvious to you.” Robert stood up so that he was looking Bob in the eye.
“The fact is that only one of us has been able to enjoy all of this. I’ve decided that I want to share it with myself, or to be more precise, with one of my other selves. I want you to have all of this. The wealth, the power, the prestige, the wine, women and song and everything else that goes with it.”
“Once again, excuse my skepticism, Robert, but I have to wonder what would prompt you to do this.”
“To tell the truth, once you have everything, it gets boring. No more challenges. Everything just falls in your lap. I’m tired of Nirvana – now it’s your turn.”
“What’s the catch?”
“The catch?” replied Robert. “Well we obviously can’t have two of us in the same reality. First it would freak people out. Second, I suspect that one or other of the alternate realities wouldn’t like it. Perhaps all of them wouldn’t. That could be very, very bad for everyone’s reality. So the catch is you get this – I live out your life and you live out mine. You become Robert and I go back through the portal and I become Bob.”
To be continued