The waning sunlight trickled through the window like maple syrup. Long shadows drew in around Dr. Stephanie Tyler’s small office in the basement of the physics building. She was surrounded by copious quantities of paper with furiously scribbled equations. To the casual observer she resided in chaos, but there was order to her world. She tucked a lock of auburn hair behind her ear and chewed her bottom lip as she concentrated on the next calculation. She was so close to seeing the fruition of her labours, just a few more calculations and she would be ready for a test run. She had to concentrate though, no use getting too excited too soon and messing up the calculations. One mistake and the first intrepid explorer to step through could end up ceasing to exist. Her mind had wandered again, damn it, she cursed herself. She took a sip of the coffee she didn’t realise was stone cold and grimaced. Time for a short break, she told herself.
Paul McTear was in the kitchen. Stephanie had hoped not to run into anyone, least of all Paul. Not for any negative reason, just that she could do with minimal distractions right now. She bit her bottom lip again, tucked that errant lock behind her ear and took her glasses off to show her green eyes. “Hi Paul,” she said. “How’s the world of quantum tunnelling?” She quietly admonished herself for appearing so simpering. “Hi Steph,” he said. “Pretty good actually”, he smiled. He was a tall man with dirty blond dishevelled hair and two days stubble growth. Stephanie found him very attractive, but she really wanted to focus on her work. “How’s the world of multiverse theory?” he asked. “Pretty good too,” she said. Get a grip girl, she told herself. “I should get back to it,” she said as she poured a hot coffee from the flask. “Don’t work yourself too hard,” he smiled.
Stephanie returned to her office. The sun had set now leaving a fiery sky outside her small window. She turned on a small desk lamp and returned to her calculations for the next few hours. She liked the organic nature of pencil and paper. She felt closer to her equations that way, although she understood she would need to input them into the computer to run the particle emitters. The scribbled symbols on the page in front of her began to dance in her mind. As they swirled in front of her, they came together solving themselves with her as a seemingly passive observer. That was it, the final equation to target the particle stream at the ‘membrane’ between universes. Her excitement overtook her and tears welled in her eyes. The first practical test could go ahead tomorrow, or rather later that morning.
“Morning Paul,” she said. Paul gave her an appraising look, “Did you sleep at all last night Steph?” he said. But she had been too excited to sleep and definitely couldn’t now. They input the equations into the computer both working from Stephanie’s papers. “Wow!” Paul said. “You’ve really cracked this! For the first test, let’s just see if we can get a return signal – nothing too fancy.” Nothing too fancy Stephanie thought to herself, a signal from a parallel universe. Paul tapped at his keyboard furiously for several minutes. The particle emitter in the lab began to hum with anticipation. Stephanie found herself gripping Paul’s shoulders, “Sorry,” she said. The output emitter was focussed on an empty point close to the centre of the room. Hopefully the universe they made contact with had a similar room on the other side, provided they targeted a universe with the same quantum principles. Paul activated the particle emitter. This wasn’t like science fiction TV programmes with brightly coloured beams; there was nothing visible to see aside from a slight fuzziness in the centre of the focal point. Stephanie took of her glasses and rubbed them on her top. “We’re getting something coming through!” Paul said. “There’s a spike in the positron emission spectrum, same spin!” Stephanie squeaked with excitement, “We’ve found a close match then! Maybe we’re doing the same thing over there?”
First test complete Paul shut down the emitter. This was Stephanie’s project and dream; she had some analysis to do before she would be ready for the next phase of the experiment. Analysis was important, verification and repeatability vital for her to publish on this work. However, she was just too excited. Could she communicate across the barrier? Could she send physical matter across? The quantum spins and other universal constants she had measured so far were identical to her universe. Matter from her world could theoretically exist over there. But this kind of thinking could be dangerous, she mustn’t get ahead of herself. She had no idea of the potential consequences of breaking down the barrier between adjacent parallel worlds. She focussed on her analysis.
Several days and sleepless nights later she was ready for an attempt at communication. She was familiar with the particle emitter so returned to the lab alone. She had worked on a simple system of communication that someone on the other side could understand, provided there was someone there. She activated the particle emitter and saw the same fuzziness at the focal point. She worked the computer keyboard to vary a second particle beam output in a series of simple mathematical sequences beginning with her favourite, the Fibonacci sequence. She stared intently at her data feed. The same spikes were visible from the first test, repeatability achieved. Then, to Stephanie’s astonishment, a new signal came through, this time a sequence of prime numbers. “My God!” she exclaimed aloud. Was this herself sending her a signal back? She sent another signal back with the next primes in the sequence she had just received.
The return signal gain jumped up several orders of magnitude. The excitement was almost too much. The return signal had an audible component. She processed the signal through various clean-up filters and modulators. Hello, a voice said. Is there someone there? Stephanie’s heart skipped several beats. She held her breath for what seemed like hours. “Yes,” she replied. “I am Dr. Stephanie Tyler of the University of Cambridge, England.” She awaited the response. Tyler? The voice said. This is…is…fuck! This must be as amazing and unbelievable to this other individual Stephanie thought. I am also Dr. Tyler at Cambridge, the voice said. Stephanie’s heart lurched again; she had butterflies doing somersaults in her abdomen. She adjusted a dial to clean the voice up some more. “Say again please,” she said. I am Dr. Tyler, the response came, but from a male voice. This was too much for Stephanie, such similarities in universes in her measurements, but she hadn’t really considered the gravity of the differences in decisions made. The theory was that every choice made creates a new parallel universe. Each would therefore be similar in many respects but equally different in others. Stephanie thought back eight years. There was a major decision she made at that time that must have gone a different way in this universe she was communicating across to. “Is that Dr. Stephen Tyler?” She asked tentatively. The response came, bloody hell… then louder, yes, yes it is. Stephanie you say? “That’s right,” she said, “It seems we have some divergence in our lives.” Understatement of the century she thought. This is remarkable! I’m assuming a simple conception divergence thirty four years ago? Not so simple, Stephanie thought. “Erm…thirty four years is right,” she paused. How to say this? She’d had this conversation more times than she had cared to, but never with a counterpart. “But not a conception divergence as you put it. More a divergence when we were twenty six.” Even after eight years, she still grew nervous having this conversation. On my God! You did it! His response was not at all confrontational or with any hint of discomfort, just congratulatory with a hint of regret maybe? I’m so sorry Stephanie, but I can’t hold signal at this end for any longer. Your particle emitter, if anything like mine, will be about to fry. We can talk again tomorrow though? She held her breath again, so much to talk about, so many questions, not just about their divergent lives but a multitude of subjects. “Yes, I’d like that Stephen.” The computer read Signal Lost in a flashing red light.
Stephanie felt tears welling up in her eyes. She hadn’t been prepared for the emotional consequences of contact with the other side. Eight years on and very few people in her current place of work would know of her history, least of all Paul. If she were to pursue something with him, then she should trust him with her secret. Anyway, enough wallowing she rebuked herself. She needed some rest and she had more analysis based upon the last contact.
When Stephanie returned to the lab the next morning Paul was already there running diagnostics on the equipment. “Hi Steph,” he smiled. “How was test two?” She didn’t really know why, but she felt guilty. She tucked her hair behind her ear and looked up into Paul’s eyes, her own eyes were moistening. “What’s the matter Steph?” he asked squeezing her shoulder. “The test went wonderfully; I got the same results…” “So why are you crying?” he asked tenderly. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, stupid girl she admonished herself, be professional! “I made contact with someone on the other side yesterday evening.” Paul stood in stunned silence. “It was the me from the other side. It…” her voice caught. “It got a little emotional, I suppose”. “This is extraordinary! Do you know what this means!?” Paul exclaimed while hugging her. “This will change life as we know it! Nobel Prizes! We should try again today!” Stephanie hadn’t really been considering the wider implications of these experiments, certainly not a Nobel Prize. She was certainly excited about the prospects of further conversations with another universe, maybe even visit soon. They should document their conversations everything was invaluable data, but some things were deeply personal. “Yes, you’re right,” she said, “We should.”
They activated the particle emitter and thinned the barrier between universes for the third experiment. “Target nominal, we should have the same universe as the previous tests,” Paul said professionally. This was work, not an exploration of oneself Stephanie told herself. “So, you started with Fibonacci’s sequence?” Paul asked. “The Dr. Tyler of the other side is expecting vocal contact again. We had a pretty decent signal with a simple digital radio carrier on a second particle beam,” Stephanie replied. “Cool, I’ll set that up. Just a sec…” he tapped a few keys, “Go for it.” Stephanie felt the butterflies again and her mouth had gone dry. “Hello? Dr. Tyler?” she called. They both waited for a return signal. Hi Stephanie, it’s good to hear you again. The reply came after several minutes. I’m assuming all is well at your end? “Yes, we’ve managed to work some patches to reduce the power required so we should get a bit longer today.” Good. We had a few things to discuss I believe. Paul gave Stephanie a quizzical look. Is that a man? he mouthed. She shot him a withering look. I don’t want to deal with this right now she thought. “I have my colleague Dr. Paul McTear with me today,” she said. Wow! Paul…we know each other very well on this side. Hi there Paul. came the response. “Am I an equally handsome expert physicist on your side?” Paul asked playfully. Stephanie shot him another look, keep it professional it said. A nervous chuckle came through the speakers, Perhaps we should discuss some physics. “Yes of course, we’re burning with questions here,” Paul responded.
They spoke for a good ninety minutes before the particle emitter needed to be shut down for cool down. Both universes were very similar in many respects. Fundamental constants were identical, the vast majority of historical events they thought to ask about had also occurred but with one or two fairly minor exceptions. They had kept personal details to a minimum, but most of whom they knew were alive and well on both sides. Both Stephanie and Stephen had a sister, Karen and neither was particularly close to her. Stephanie wanted to talk more with Stephen alone. They had arranged to talk again alone the next evening.
The next evening Stephanie activated the particle emitter. The signal she received this time had a greater bandwidth. Hi Steph, can you hook up a monitor? Stephanie felt a sense of anticipation mixed with trepidation. The face she was going to see was one she hadn’t seen for a long time and had only been associated with pain in her past. “Yes,” she said cautiously. We don’t need to make a visual connection if you don’t want? A visual signal across universes was too good an opportunity to miss scientifically just because of some personal discomfort. “No, we should,” she said. She connected a visual monitor to the output. An image began to resolve. It was low resolution and patchy with some pixel dropout but adequate to see her lab or rather his lab on the monitor. She was taken aback by the person looking back from that lab. The features were familiar but she still hadn’t been expecting what she saw, what had she expected she thought. The green eyes were the same, with a bright sharpness to them, but sadness too. Auburn hair was close cropped with a peppering of blond or white to it and there was a couple of days beard growth also peppered with white. He also wore one small, simple gold hoop earring in his right earlobe. I can see you quite clearly this side he said. You look really pretty he smiled. This was an odd feeling, being complimented by what seemed to be her past self but not. “Erm…thank you,” she responded. She felt a sense of awkwardness. Stephen decided to break it; I expect you’re wondering where our divergence occurred. “It crossed my mind.” To be honest, I’ve been finding this very difficult. Perhaps the divergence was she had decided to act and this other self had not. She hadn’t really considered how their contact was affecting Stephen. I think I have the same feelings you have had. Only I never got the nerve to be true to myself. Despite the low resolution Stephanie could see tears in Stephen’s eyes. I am so happy that you could his voice caught. “It’s never too late,” Stephanie said. There was a palpable moment of silence between them. Stephanie waited patiently. In this world, Paul and I became more than colleagues, so it gets…a bit complicated. Her heart skipped, Paul? Was he the same here? She realised, that as far as her infatuation went, she really didn’t know Paul all that well. But she knew he was a caring and considerate man. “Have you spoken with Paul about this?” she asked. Stephen’s expression looked pained. No, I have to admit I have been suppressing these feelings and sinking myself into the project – the same project you’ve been working on. Stephanie recognised those feelings; she had been the same during her PhD. “Maybe that would be a good place to start?” Could I ask you about how your family are? A touchy subject Stephanie thought to herself. She’d had a few battles, particularly in the early years. “Erm…well my, our, parents have been very supportive. But Karen was quite difficult. We’ve never really got past it.” I understand. Karen and I aren’t close here either. She doesn’t really grasp my relationship with Paul. A universe away and some people were no different. “Well, technically speaking, since we are both separate entities,” Stephanie said, “we are essentially siblings.” Stephen laughed a warm laugh that heartened Stephanie. Through their separate struggles universes apart, they could have each other. They were to each other, the closeness of family that each so desperately craved. I’d really like that very much Stephanie, he smiled, and I can bounce physics ideas off my clearly much more capable sister who beat me to transuniversal communications.
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