Fiction Fragment Friday
For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed stories that explore alternate histories or realities. A story that looks at the way things are and tries to answer the question of how they would be if one thing changed. What impact can a single decision make? As someone with anxiety I devote far too much of my own thought space to examining every aspect of my life and running through the possibilities. I suspect that is why these type of stories resonate with me so much.
No one source inspired this weeks story and the main character is not based on anyone real or fictitious. I just wanted to write something more serious. I wanted to do what good science fiction is supposed to do and make my readers really examine the impact of technology on a life or society. While science fiction can be fun and adventurous to me the best science fiction makes you stop and think after you are done reading. It makes you question. That is my real goal with this piece. I want to take the reader and metaphorically hit them in the gut making them think about what they have just read.
This story may not be for everyone. I know that no story is, but in this case this is both longer and darker than what I usually put out on these Fiction Fragment Fridays. I hope you enjoy it, but if it is not to your taste I’m sure I will have something lighter and more fun next week.
My father used to tell me that no one can disappoint you as much as you can disappoint yourself. He was a perfectionist who struggled with issues of self esteem his entire life. I believe that these traits go together far more often than most people think. When you hold yourself to a standard that cannot be achieved you will never feel like you are good enough. While I could logically understand what he meant it was never a phrase that I personally connected to. It was a thought process too different from my own. For the first time in my life, I think I can finally relate to my father’s mindset.
As a Theoretical Physicist I had to acknowledge early in my career that much of my work would never see fruition until long after my death. It is a career that can be frequently frustrating as you are developing theories, models, and experiments that are decades to a century ahead of the technology available. That isn’t to say you can’t experiment or perform tests, but more often than not you are proving your hypothesis with mathematical equations and not getting to see the practical applications become reality. On the rare case that does happen it can bring a sense of accomplishment that is a rare gift in my field.
Three months ago, while working with a gravitational engineer in a classified underground super collider I had the biggest breakthrough of my career. While creating and studying microscopic blackholes we managed to stabilize one for sixty seconds before it collapsed. Measuring the gamma waves that came from it we were able to determine that the stabilization process had connected it to an alternate universe. Validating a considerable number of my theories we had turned a microscopic black hole into a wormhole that connected to a parallel reality. My life’s work becoming reality and the project was so classified that no one would ever know in my lifetime. I could only hope to have my papers published posthumously.
Two months ago, we made a discovery even larger than our initial unstable microscopic wormhole. We had just opened a new wormhole and while measuring the gamma waves, we detected something else. Photons were being directed through the wormhole from the other side. We were not just connecting to a random point in another universe, but instead were connecting to a microscopic blackhole that another team of scientists had created. They were sending us a message and trying to communicate. An even bigger surprise was that their technological development was such a parallel path to ours that they had sent a binary message we could easily decipher.
By this time a month ago we had created stable wormhole connections to five different universes. We could keep a connection open for about a week and in doing so establish ongoing communication with our scientific counterparts. We had perfected the communication to the point that we could carry on text-based chat with these individuals. Naturally my team argued non-stop about what to ask them. There were so many questions, and we didn’t even know where to start.
After a particularly frustrating meeting I decided that I had enough. I walked out of the meeting and went straight to the keyboard. Every message to that point had been designed by committee and was a direct as possible. Before anyone could stop me, I typed in, “Hello my name is Dr. Alyson Cramer. To whom am I speaking?” My coworkers quickly joined me, and the yelling began. Everyone suddenly went silent though when a reply came to the screen. “Hello Dr. Cramer. I am Dr. Alison Cramer. It is a pleasure to meet myself.”
We had long theorized that the scientists we were communicating with could be versions of ourselves but having this verified had a considerable impact on our psychological health. I personally spent far too many hours over the next week discussing this with our on staff mandated psychiatrist. Talking to yourself can create a strange form of identity crisis. You start to wonder who you truly are and how much of your life is because of choices you made vs factors that are completely out of your control. You also lose a feeling of uniqueness, but you gain a feeling of connection. At least that was how I reacted to it. I can’t really speak for how my colleagues handled the revelation as I became a bit self-absorbed for a while.
As we began communicating with more worlds, I came to expect myself on the other end of the keyboard. Out of the five worlds we were talking to four of them had a version of myself on the team. I discovered many ways our lives had been different. Two of them were married and one of those versions even had a child. I had never had time for a serious relationship with my work. A third version of myself was a published Science Fiction author using her in depth knowledge of physics to craft complex stories. I had given up my own dream of writing in college.
The more I learned about my alternates the more I came to wonder about the world that didn’t have a version of myself on the project. I wanted to know if I even existed in that world and if so, how my path had differed to keep me from the project. This was my life’s work but in that world someone else ended up providing the theories they needed to communicate. I wanted to know how that happened. Did that other version of me find a more fulfilling life following a different path or had they made a mistake along the way that I did not?
Finally, my curiosity got to be too much and against my psychiatrist’s recommendations I asked the scientists from that world to research me. I had found that my early life seemed to match up well with the other four versions I had as a reference. With so many similarities in our lives I had developed a theory that similar worlds were the easiest to connect to. The variance point had to be recent for us to communicate in this method if I was correct. With that in mind I provided that worlds team with as much information about my childhood as I could think of. I hoped that would be enough to find out if I was ever even born.
After a few days they responded and asked me if I was sure I wanted to know about my life on their world. I knew that most likely that meant they had bad news for me, but that just served to feed my curiosity. I told them that I understood it might be upsetting but that I wanted to know, and it would help us understand how worlds could differ. I thought that I was prepared for anything, but I was wrong.
I know that she was not me, but just a version of me. That does not change that I now understand what my father had meant. I know it is a path I could have followed and because of that I now feel a disappointment in myself that I did not know was possible. In college she went to a party that I did not. She drank too much and got into an accident that costed an innocent man his life. Her life spiraled from there leading to her dropping out of college and pushing away anyone who had been close. In her final act she took her own life because she could not live with what she had done.
I spent the past few days researching my worlds version of the accident victim. With the access I have to government resources I know everything about this man’s life. I am fixating on him and even though I know I have not done anything to him I can’t help but feel guilt for what my alternate had done. What I now knew I was capable of having done. I have accomplished my life’s work and yet I feel no satisfaction. I am surrounded by coworkers and talking to four alternate versions of myself and yet I have never felt so alone in my life.
I do not share what I have found with anyone, but I know that the conversations are logged and that my coworkers have read them. I can feel their eyes judging me, but it does not compare to how I judge myself. I cannot help but wonder if my creation will bring about advances for humanity or just highlight its mistakes. Perhaps it is truly better for us to not ask the question. What if?