“So here you are,” Bob replied, “fabulously wealthy with all the comforts a man could ever dream of and you’re just going to give it all to me? That doesn’t sound like me. I mean, I like to think that I’m generous, but this just doesn’t seem like something I’d do.”
“It’s not like I’m giving it away. I’m keeping it in a manner of speaking,” replied Robert. “I’m giving it to a slightly different version of myself. Besides, I’m bored. This way you get to have everything you ever dreamt of and I get something different. After 20 years of being the big shot it gets old.”
“But why me? If there are an infinite number of versions of me – and therefore you – why choose me?”
“I didn’t choose you, it was luck of the draw. The ability to open a portal into a different reality works fairly well, but there’s no way of knowing in advance what is different about it. There is no way of selecting into which reality you open the portal. In your case, it’s like finding a winning lottery ticket. The odds are minuscule, but not impossible. In my case it’s like throwing a dart at a dartboard with my eyes closed. It’s all just chance.”
“Excuse me for saying this, but I can’t help but flash on the story of the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
“I’m so tired of hearing that!” replied Robert, angrily. “Every time…” He stopped speaking.
“Every time? So you’ve tried this before, haven’t you.”
“That’s not what we’re here to talk about!” demanded Robert. “Here I am trying to do something nice and all you do is tell me what’s wrong with it. Do you realize how frustrating that is? Nobody told Florence Nightingale to leave the sick people alone.” He walked back over to the couch and dropped down onto the cushions.
“So tell me, Robert. If I did change places with you and I wanted to switch back, could I?”
“You could switch with another version of us, yes. The likelihood of it being me would be infintisimal,” replied Robert, his eyes darting down and to the left.
“But I could switch?” asked Bob. “How? I don’t see any equipment here. I doubt that you just mentally wish your way into another reality. There must be something that makes it happen.”
“Oh there is, but I only use one at a time. First off, they aren’t exactly pouring off the assembly line just yet, not to mention that they’re not quite perfected. It’s not like I can go and take a dozen out of the lab. Second, the scientists fear that opening two portals near one another could prove catastrophic. So I only open one portal at a time.”
“How long does a portal stay open?” asked Bob.
“Long enough to travel through it.”
“There’s quite a bit you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”
“Perhaps,” replied Robert. “However, that gives you one more good reason to take my offer. If we trade places you’ll be able to find out all the answers, or at least to the degree that your math and physics knowledge allows.”
“At least answer how long a portal remains open,” demanded Bob.
“We don’t know for sure but it seems as if the portal remains until someone passes through it. If no one passes through it, the portal remains open, at least for a while. The scientists don’t know for how long, but they’ve had one open for several years now, but that’s under laboratory conditions. The theory is that the portal is primarily energy. Passing through the portal expends that energy; it’s kind of like a rechargeable battery – it holds a charge until it’s used to power something. If the battery is never connected to anything it charge slowly dissipates on its own but it takes much longer. It seems that for a while, at least, a small part remains if not open at least identifiable. If you attempt to open a portal at the same spot before the previous one completely disappears, you will reopen the same portal and connect with the same alternate reality.”
“How long does that last?”
“A couple of days at best.”
“So at best I have a couple of days to think about your offer.”
“Sorry for the rush, but it’s physics that sets the timeline, not me.”
Bob walked up to the familiar wall and touched where the soft spot had been. It still felt soft, but touching it made his finger feel like a thousand ants were crawling all over it.
“See,” Robert explained. “It’s still there but not it won’t let anyone pass through.”
Bob put his hands in his pockets and started to pace again. He felt something he didn’t recognize and then remembered the first stop through the portal. The Bob in that dimension had put it in his hand and said he’d need it. He couldn’t take it out of his pocket and look at it – he was sure that it was best to keep it a secret from Robert. He had to figure out how this worked. Whatever it was, it was a single use item – Robert had said so himself.
This was ultimately to be used for long distance space travel, so whatever the design was, the research would be conducted with that goal in mind. While it was true that the discovery was based on advanced science and math, the basic concepts had to be something even he could grasp. He ran through several dozen scenarios in his mind, discarding most rather quickly. Then…
“Robert,” he asked, “are you risk averse?”
“Do I prefer to avoid unnecessary risk? It all depends on what you consider unnecessary.”
Bob stood staring at Robert for the better part of a minute, then spoke. “I tend to look for the logical choice, which usually is not risky,” he said, “or at least as risky as the other choices. However, there are times when you just have to make a decision, even if you don’t have all the facts. The Marine Corps believes that if you have 80% of the information you need, you act. I always thought that was a good rule.”
“NO!” screamed Robert as he jumped up from his seat on the couch but before he could take a single step, Bob had pulled the object from his pocket and without looking at it, had thrown it at the wall.
There was a huge flash, and although temporarily blinded, Bob stepped forward.
To be continued.