Martin Solberg sat at his pod donned in the three-piece outfit expected of all paralegals. The suit made him stand out as a dark figurine jutting into the bare white walls and the bright fluorescents above. Each move he made was easily noticeable from across the room like a shadow cast before a projected screen, so the attorney had the advantage of taking a quick glance over her shoulder to see if her underling was absorbed in other thoughts. Though, the panoptical setting did not dissuade him from momentarily abandoning his research, especially on a particular case that was a bit too disheartening to focus on for more than a few minutes. He could have sworn he had a strange gift of sorts, something which helped shift his consciousness out of the current plane of reality into another vector point consisting of a different iteration of Earth. It was hard to determine whether this was real or not. Regardless, such an ability came in handy in moments like this. Straightening himself out of a subtle hunch, Martin tuned out his environment and shut his eyes.
The visions were clear, but too ideal to be real. Was this some schizophrenic attempt at escape, a product of an overactive imagination too cowardly to deal with the vicissitudes of modern life? Some degree of insanity or a more subtle form of madness was taking place, and it was interfering with the management of his daily struggles. However, every attempt he made to add a touch of realism and re-envision the fantastic dreamscapes with darker imaginings was met with resistance, a rebuff not of his own device. Either he was stubborn or something inside was forcing him to bend to its will. He couldn’t tell. The only thing real to him was that he could not escape from the invasive reality contrasting so petulantly with his own vapid surroundings, a place beaconing dread and despair everyday as if the very planet he was on was being seared away little by little.
Someone shouted his name. Startled, he shook himself awake. The attorney had sent him a new case for immediate dispatch. She said it was marked urgent due to the court date being sooner than expected. He looked over the inquiry. It was another legal low-hanging fruit of a mother who left her child out to play on the front lawn without supervision. Martin sighed. It was either prepare this document or suffer a blow to the credit score. He knew he had to escape, but he still had the rest of the day to dodge suspicion from his boss and proceeded with his job as if administering a poison pill under duress. Each passing minute he hated this reality with more relish and looked to lose himself again in the new world.
A brook in the middle of a forest appeared. There weren’t many natural wonders left, but he immersed himself as much as time allotted. The running susurration of water was calming after a day’s work. He found he could focus. There was a stick nearby laying on the leafy ground. Focusing on the stick, he strayed from conventional probability and began visualizing the impossible. With an added firmness, he began to concentrate. Pangs of mental stress pushed him to the limit. If only he could pick up the stick, even nudge a small object in the observable surroundings, it would serve as proof that another vector point was equally tangible. There had to be a way to reach it. Several minutes must have flown by. The strain became unbearable, and his breathing was belabored.
Something flicked. The stick moved! It was subtle, but he knew something solid when he felt it. Was this contact between two planes of existence, two parallel vectors that never made any form of contact until his intercession?
A blaring horn took Martin off guard and rudely awakened him to a widening gap in his lane. Before cogitating the implications of bridging two worlds, such that he was not reveling in his usual daydreams, he hit the accelerator expecting to go some distance only to immediately come to a screeching halt after a few car lengths. He slammed on the brakes, feeling the restraint of the seatbelts against his shoulder. Reacquainting with his old world, he huffed out a groan. The sporadic movement of rush hour was too dangerous to get himself lost in idle thoughts. He had no way of telling how far into his own madness he had fallen. But he was certain there was another place becoming more real by the day. He felt it, even if contact was as fleeting as the wind. Despite the setback, he would try again later.
The rest of the day went by without a peep. Martin held his reserve on what he witnessed out on the highway. He needed more time––hours worth. To do so, getting to bed two hours earlier than usual was the only way to stretch his imagination and boldly meditate on reaching out a second time. He needed to be ready and hoped his experience in the car was not some freak event irreplicable under any other circumstance.
The light turned out for the night. The visions returned. They were marked by a vividness unseen before and gave Martin hope of repeating his interaction, as brief as it was. While his body was under the covers, his mind weaved through cities of gold and gleaming lights under a starry sky. It was night here as well, the vector being under the same temporal constraints, and the dappled dome became clearer as he skimmed beyond the city limits into wooded arcologies serving as suburbs. In a matter of minutes, the land underneath flattened into a darker mass. The ocean was unrecognizable, whether through geographical differences or the landscapes being too alien to place his whereabouts. Regardless of where he was, it was a perfect opportunity to forge his presence in a parallel reality. He felt the strain again, a tumult of pain stronger than before. His head screamed, but he refused to be dissuaded. Reaching down into the wafting surfs, he failed to grasp the friction of matter; his hands phased through the waves as if he was made of light. Concentration was a must! The swells and breakers sweeping underneath at incredible speeds gave a sense of tunnel vision in which to help him focus. His mind split with the added stress, mirroring the rift between two vector points he hoped to create.
After an endless bout of toil, a sudden shock of euphoria came over him. He didn’t know what to make of it, but it felt like a surge of relief. Feeling confidant, Martin dipped down to the ocean’s surface a second time and splayed his hands. A spray of water was dispersed, and he felt the pelting of droplets across his body. He rejoiced. A successful bridge between two parallel worlds was built. There was a fleeting concern that he would end up being trapped here, never to return to his home world, but it was a risk he was willing to take considering the odds of increasing tensions dominating every corner of his life.
Speeding past the continental shelf, the water gave way to land caked in forestry and clear of light pollution. Inland, sprawling hills undulated like the waves, and steepened to heights rivaling the Adirondacks. The area looked like it was somewhere in upstate New York, but he couldn’t tell offhand. What he knew was that he was travelling westward due to the wind drag on his opaquing form. The trade winds always blew east. Something else was apparent to him, as if an unseen force was tugging at his mind, guiding him to a destination yet to be seen.
Minutes passed, and a small lake came into view. Martin could see the reflection of the night sky faintly rippling with the waves. He homed in on a small silhouette. It was a rowboat in the middle of the water, as if its rider fell asleep and forgot to moor his vessel after sundown. Coming closer, its occupant resolved into view. The man looked relaxed with a fishing rod extending from the gunwale inches from the port side oarlock. He was donned in a wide-brim fishing hat and a button-down flannel shirt. The black rubber boots fitting close to his knees were firmly planted on the planks of the sole and stood next to a bucket full of trout. To Martin’s bemusement, the fisherman was an anachronism in a place far-flung into the future, as if plucked from an old rustic town and plopped here as a museum piece. Despite his fascination with the live specimen, he was equally mystified the pulling sensation that led him here had vanished. The trail ended at the lake, however Martin realized he was unable to get up and leave at his leisure.
To his surprise, he heard a few faint words. “Come aboard. Don’t be shy.”
The stranger picked up Martin’s presence, especially when he regarded some diaphanous ghost with only mild amusement. Martin complied and drifted into the boat, feeling himself slump onto the seating board followed by a gentle rocking in the water. He was fully material and wondered if he could ever return. He looked up at the fisherman casually facing back at him.
“I see you’re vector-sensitive,” he said, his dialect clearly American.
Martin nearly fumbled his response. “Th––that’s correct,” he said as he sheepishly nodded with a slight accent to his English.
“That makes two of us.” The fisherman remained casual as if he had been through this routine before. “The Lord works in mysterious ways, Martin. Copenhagen?” Martin balked in surprise at the man already knowing his name and his national origin. He gave another nod. “Don’t worry, son. We don’t bite here. I guess our kind found the right path somewhere down the line. Though, I can’t say much for yours.”
“I don’t know what to say. No one’s willing to talk to you unless they’re trying to shyster you. Everyone’s at risk of being imprisoned or shot. There’s even talk of war.”
“Well, in that case, I’m glad we found one another. By the way, you can call me Mack.” It sounded like Irish blood. He proffered his hand. They shook. Physical contact! “I suggest you get yourself over here before your timeline ends…with a bang no less.”
“Our timeline ending?”
“M-hm. I hate to say it, but your world conditioned itself in recent generations to self-destruct. You can already see it in the way they operate their institutions. It can't go on forever that way. A place like that’ll shake the boots off anyone here.”
“No! How do you know all this?”
“Let’s just say it’s a hunch from all the observations I’ve made.” Martin saw that he frequented his world regularly. He was a trans-dimensional shaman! “And someone as keen as you with such a gift is worth preserving.”
“Thank…you? I––I’ve just been so enamored with how you run things here.”
“We work at it. We sure as heck don’t wanna end up like so. Now, listen. It's getting late. I’m going to send you back. Whenever things start getting too hot over there, you can always come back here and make yourself at home. You can start anew. There’s not a lot to go around on the other side of the rainbow.” Mack shifted his hand in his lap and loosely pointed his forefinger.
“I understand. But I don’t know you at all.” His tone was growing frantic. “I’m afraid I’m not acquainted with anyone here––”
Mack threw up an open palm. “That’s okay. The only thing I can say to you is to calm down and collect yourself. Our world isn’t going anywhere and there’s a lot of great folks you’ll be meeting. Now sit tight and I’ll see you on the flip!” He snapped his finger.
The world suddenly went black. Martin woke up in his apartment just past the crack of dawn. Eight hours passed. Was it that long since he jaunted? It felt like an elaborate dream. He gazed down at himself and found he was scantily clad, realizing he flew around another world half-naked. Recalling Mack’s disposition, perhaps he was able to dismiss Martin’s impromptu wardrobe while sparing him from a future under the knife.
Weeks crawled by. Each day brought its fair share of distress. War finally broke out and was becoming ever more heated by the moment. Yet, the populace remained distracted by their own egos and their sense of self-preservation. The sentiment carried across the oceans. It wasn’t long before Martin was caught attempting to re-contact the other side during work hours. He was in the middle of a case involving several small shoppes forced to shut down by state dictate under the pretext of exaggerated building codes. A conglomerate had stake in the land appropriated to them by their cronies in the government. Martin was promptly terminated, and he vented his frustration by grabbing the terminal monitor and smashed it over his boss’s head.
As he fled into the poverty-infested streets amidst the wailing sirens, he was promptly reported by a concerned citizen. Only minutes passed before he was wrestled to the ground before being hauled off to prison. His incarceration was permanent. He was beaten daily by the guards out of mere entertainment. Many times, he was kept awake at night as a torture tactic reserved for social dissidents whose names were besmirched in the eyes of the reprobates in charge. During the weeks spent in the clutches of hell, he heard nothing of worldly affairs. He lost all interest. What he held true was that he was still a vector point, catching glimpses between beatings and when he found a few winks of sporadic sleep. But along the way, he lost sight of how to leap into the next iteration and hence, siphoning off any exit strategy. Despite grinding struggle, he was stuck in this world, doomed to share its fate. His condition, both physical and psychological, jarred him out of any discipline needed to jaunt. The warden even told him his property was seized and put up for auction. It no longer mattered. Even if he died, he was glad Earth’s counterpart would continue to flourish.
Not too long after, and without warning, a blinding flash seared through the window, momentarily whitening out every shadow. Martin peered through the window slit and saw an orange fireball hovering over the horizon and turning black as it reached into the sky, a sure sign the detonation was nearby. A massive boom blew out his eardrums and he felt like someone shot him in the gut with a double barrel shotgun.
As he lay on the ground in agony, unable to shift his posture without undue protest from his own skin, he heard a slew of reassuring words too far away to tell who it was. A cooling sensation came over him as someone blocked the sunlight, casting him in shadow. He tried to see who it was but constricted from the pain again. A familiar voice rang out.
“Martin! Just hang tight. We’re giving you the treatment you need. Your tissue will be regenerated in no time.”
“M––Mack?” Martin grumbled. He couldn’t say much else.
Additional chatter came within earshot. What sounded like a team of medics came rushing to his side.
“The doctors are giving you three days to recover. You should be fine then.”
“I––I’m not dead?” He heard himself mutter.
“No. You’re very much alive. And thank God, I pulled you out in the knick of time! Vector-hoppers like us need to stick together.” Mack patted him on the shoulder, accidentally inflicting pain as Martin roared out a moan.
“Whoops! Sorry about that, partner! And I’m sorry for your world. It was written in stone, I’m afraid. But in no time flat you’ll be adjusting to your new life. That I can promise you! I’m sure you’ll have plenty of stories to tell the locals…and your grandkids.”
Martin Solberg’s crucible of horror made the rounds in every tavern and every household. The Earth on which these tales were told brought terror to those confused as to why a civilization with such promise would immolate themselves so barbarically. Yet it was not their world, nor their customs to abuse one another, and remained thankful they chose a godly course rather than hanging on to their primordial reactiveness. The stories were told as a cautionary tale, rather, an outright harbinger of what might have happened had the world taken a vastly darker turn and morally shot itself in the foot.
God bless the citizens of Earth 2 and Godspeed on their outward journey!