Bob’s eyes had trouble adjusting after the bright flash, although he knew exactly what he’d see when they cleared – his living room. Technically not “His” but a virtually identical one that belonged to another Bob in a parallel reality.
“You can come out, Bob,” he called. “I know you’re here.” From the other room he saw what looked like himself approach. “How many times has Robert tried this?” he asked his other self.
“I’m not sure, but I know that I was not his first attempt.” The other Bob sat down on the couch and Bob sat in his easy chair.
“I want to get back home,” began Bob, “Let me tell you what I figured out and you can fill in the blanks.
“I figured that it was not an electronic device that allowed the creation of portals. If the ultimate goal was to aid in long distance space travel, then the device would have to create the portal ahead of the spacecraft into which the spacecraft would then follow. It would be like launching a torpedo or perhaps more like a depth charge which would then “explode” a hole into another reality.”
“More like some high power lasers that are powered by the explosion. The explosion is contained and that sudden burst of energy channeled into the device to create the portal. It’s a single use device. Not as destructive as an explosion, but requiring that level of energy.”
“When I passed through this reality, you passed me something that you said I’d need to get back. I figured that it had to be at least a control unit, but when I felt it in my pocket, it seemed smooth without any buttons or anything. I guessed that it had to be the actual device and took a chance that throwing it would activate it,” continued Bob.
“The advantage of us being different versions of the same person is that I knew pretty much what you would know, think and suspect. I could never have taken that chance with anyone else. I had to give it to you quickly because he would have noticed any significant delay and be suspicious.”
“How much do you actually know about Robert?” Bob asked.
“I spent some time with him. It wasn’t hard to figure out where he was headed.”
“How did you escape?” asked Bob.
“I didn’t – he threw me back. My reality was not sufficiently different from his, so there was no point in changing places with me.”
“How so,” asked Bob.
“I too attended Harvard and Yale and married the Homecoming Queen. The difference is that I didn’t force her father out. After ten years and two kids, she cried to daddy, divorced me and shortly after that ran off with a rock musician.”
“So how is it that you have access to the experimental portal equipment?” asked Bob.
“Oh I still work for his company – the one that’s doing the research. At first he did it to make sure his grandkids were cared for. Ultimately he didn’t care for how his daughter turned out. He disowned her and most of his wealth will go to his grandkids. In the meantime I’ve got a job, my kids, this home, and a chance to keep Robert from making any of the rest of us Bobs miserable. Not to mention some of the best field research possible for this project. A sad and lonely man who keeps providing me with a variety of test subjects and I can ethically use myself as the control.”
“You said that her father didn’t like how your wife turned out,” queried Bob.
“Picture a 57 year old 220 pound biker chick who’s done enough drugs to forget that she even went to college.”
“Ewww!” Bob commented involuntarily. “By the way, when I first touched the portal, I felt someone grab my hand. Was that you?”
“No, that was Robert. Although we each live in an alternative reality, when someone moves from one to another there are ripples that can be detected. Kind of like a seismograph identifying an earthquake on the other side of the planet. When I saw that a portal was opening, I opened mine as a stopping point between Robert’s reality and yours.”
“He doesn’t know that you can do that?” asked Bob.
“There’s a lot he doesn’t know. I’m actively working on this project while he sits in his office probably micromanaging the engineers”
“Excuse my doubt, but that doesn’t sound like work for a Harvard MBA and a Yale lawyer,” challenged Bob.
“Agreed. However, I didn’t stop learning when I graduated. Thomas Edison didn’t have a degree in electrical engineering. The scientists on the Manhattan Project weren’t nuclear scientists. I understand the concepts. The engineers work on the details. They handle the depth – I help on the breadth, you know, how the pieces fit together. Actually my background is especially well suited for managing the risks.
“For example, when you stepped through the portal, you started with a rope around your waist and a video camera. Neither passed through. The rope could not because everything and everybody needs to be in one reality or another. You can’t exist in both. Since the rope was anchored in your reality, it couldn’t pass through the portal. That’s a risk that needs to be managed.”
“And the video camera?” asked Bob.
“That was intentional. I have a certain amount of control as to the types of material that can pass. It wouldn’t have been prudent to allow you to record anything here for a whole variety of reasons related to physics, metaphysics and just plain common sense. Let’s just say the Schrödinger’s Cat has some practical implications. Besides, do you really think a project of this size would be without multiple safeguards? As I mentioned earlier, my background prepared me for analyzing and dealing with risk. Those risks include everything from unauthorized copying of critical information to keeping our friend Robert from littering multiple universes. You know how space junk has become such a problem? Imagine bits and pieces of alternate realities floating loose and crashing into things? Imagine your world suddenly faced with an evil Joan of Arc or a beneficent Hitler. It would disrupt much more than just the history books.”
“So how different are you and I?” asked Bob.
“My degrees are from more prestigious schools. I’m divorced. We both live in the same house for the same reasons – good schools. Our kids are pretty much as similar as you and I. We have different jobs. Some of the outside factors are different. What’s on the inside is fairly similar.”
“Speaking of which,” replied Bob, “although this is fascinating, I suspect it’s in everyone’s best interest for me to head home. The other Bob nodded his head.
“Well, it’s goodbye, for even if you turned around immediately after passing through the portal I suspect you’d meet another and different Bob. You can just walk through, the portal is open.”
Bob stepped back through the wall. Mary was standing there holding the rope and looking at the video camera lying on the ground.
“Bob!” she cried and threw her arms around him. Bob held her, just enjoying being back in his own world. His son yelled down from his bedroom.
“What’s going on down there? Why all the noise?” Bob walked over to the wall and touched it. It was solid.
“Nothing!” he replied. “I was just fixing the wall.”