Patrick Figeroa knew he had to get back inside the quarantine area and shut down the experiment within the next hour or it would become unstoppable. General Conrad Buchanan and his so-called “military experts” thought that just cutting power to the transfer unit would close the rift, and although the field remained active, they believed it was a residual effect that would gradually fade.
They were spectacularly wrong.
At thirty-five, Figeroa was considered the world’s foremost expert on transdimensional dynamics, but he had been certified a genius since age three, so such accolades meant nothing to him.
The remote testing ground in central Nevada seemed even more alien to him as he approached ground zero. It had been child’s play to shut down a sector of the defense grid in one sector surrounding area LI, including sonic, visual, and infrared sensors, so he could get inside. It was just after eight, and desert mornings in November were particularly unforgiving. Fortunately, he was well dressed for the freezing weather, but although he was prepared for what he had to do in every other way, the landscape, and especially the birds sailing above in the overcast sky puzzled him.
He was in sight of the gate now. Buchanan had ordered no live sentries inside the quarantine area, due to possible radiation contamination while (he supposed) the gate’s field strength was waning. The titanium alloy that made up the aperture now appeared to be stone, as if it were some ancient Roman archway, or an antediluvian artifact dedicated to a pagan god. Other objects of a similar nature had sprung up nearby, but none were emitting the characteristic signature of what he called the “Figeroa Effect.”
“They’re coming from the other side. There’s no other explanation.” He observed the avian life perched on top of the gate and swarming in the air above it. He was familiar with every form of raptor native to the western US (a boyhood hobby of his), and these didn’t even look like they came from the same planet. Of course, they didn’t.
The dark-haired physicist jumped slightly as he noticed something moving on a rock formation a hundred meters to his right. It resembled an armadillo, but was covered with a slate-colored skin that resembled canvas. It was very slow moving, either by nature or some deleterious result of being away from its home environment, but in either case, seemed to pose no threat to the bearded, young scientist.
He approached the field and could see a mirror image of his world inside. Everything seemed to be duplicated, well almost. Patrick looked up again at the otherworldy birds of prey, which regarded him with malevolent, crimson eyes, but other wise made no move against him. Each was the size of a California Condor, the black and gray winged creatures weighing in at 10 kilos or so he guessed, with a wingspan of a little over three meters. If they wanted to, a group of them might make short work of a man, but perhaps the human species was unknown to them, and therefore, they were wary.
“Here we go.” He was standing two meters from the gate, the closest he dared to approach the field without the help of the Tantilis Device. Buchanan didn’t ignore him when he explained how the gateway needed to be shutdown manually using a highly focused form of exotic radiation, but his experts advised him that the device had never been tested and could pose a potential threat.
They were idiots. He’d verified the predicted results in countless computer simulations. The only thing he hadn’t anticipated was how the alien environment seemed to rapidly “overwrite” their own within a diameter of three kilometers, rather than just provide an overlay for information and physical transfer from one realm to the other.
He reached inside what looked like a saddle bag suspended from him by a leather strap across his shoulder, and hanging at his right hip, and flicked the single toggle switch on top of the black box inside. The calculations had to be precise, and if his programming back at the lab were off even by a tiny percentage, he would probably die in the next half-second, so controls for manual adjustments would have been useless.
“In for a penny, eh Patrick?” Now he had to step inside the field for the Tantalis Device to work. He walked forward cautiously, seeing his distorted reflection in the rippling energy matrix just ahead of him. Then he entered, and in that instant, realized they had both entered.
Two human beings surrounded by a chaotic blue and white electrical discharge, as if the world around them had become charged by an arcane power.
“I thought this might happen,” she said, a small smile growing on her ruby lips.
“Who are you?” She seemed familiar to him, looking almost like his sister, but it couldn’t be her. Amelia was on the African continent, experimenting with her new AIDS vaccine.
“I can see we aren’t quite duplicated in more than one way, my dear dopplegänger.”
“Dopple…” He looked more carefully. She was dressed in exactly the same clothing he was, adjusting for size, carrying an identical satchel, no doubt containing an identical Tantalis…identical but reversed.
“My name is Patricia Figeroa, and apparently, you didn’t follow the same line of logic I did in anticipating just how we would manifest on the opposite sides of our invention.”
“I thought that such a thing might be possible, alternate versions of each of us, but I assumed…”
“You’d still be a man on this side, albeit with your internal organs reversed or something. No, it’s not quite like that. As the strange avian life that has migrated here from your realm attests, not everything is exact.”
Patrick looked up in the air through the field’s threshold and saw several breeds of hawk he recognized gliding the thermals overhead.
“We’ve got to shut this thing down,” he implored.
“You should step back,” he advised her. “My calculations account for only a single Tantalis shutdown. I have no idea what would happen if both of us should make the attempt simultaneously.”
“It will fail. Like I said, you didn’t follow the same line of logic, much to your peril, my lovely mirror image.” He had her left hand in her leather case while she caressed his bearded cheek sensuously with her right, Then she abruptly thrust that hand across his body and into his satchel, grasping his hand. Before the startled Patrick could react, Patricia pulled the switches of both machines to OFF. The last thing either of them heard was a loud, metallic “click.”
Patrick Figeroa woke up face down on a floor of sand and stone. He pressed the palms of both hands on the uneven rock surface, pushing himself up, coughing, and spitting dirt out of his mouth.
The sky was still overcast, but time has passed since the sun on his right had risen noticeably higher. No, something was wrong. The gateway was at his back. He should be facing south, not north. The scientist sat up and saw a peregrine falcon suddenly being assaulted in mid-air by a thing that looked superficially like a California Condor. They air was full of them.
He turned. The gate was still made of stone, and the landscape was exactly as it was an hour ago when he was about to complete his mission…the same, that is, except that everything was reversed, as if he were looking at the world’s mirrored reflection. The field had vanished completely, but given what he thought had just happened, he didn’t know if that were good or bad.
He didn’t notice the sound of the helicopter until it was about to land. The stone beneath him had made his buttocks muscles sore, and as he stiffly began to stand, he had to close his eyes, as the helicopter blade wash created a small sandstorm around him.
“The bloody satellites.” He knew he couldn’t keep himself invisible from everything, but at least he’d bought enough time with his other countermeasures. Too bad things didn’t go the way he’d planned.
Several armed soldiers got out of the copter forming a small guard on either side of the hatch as another figure exited. She kept her head low until she cleared the still spinning blades, and then became ramrod straight as she confidently strode over to him. She stopped just a meter away, and the woman wearing General’s stars with the name “Buchanan” stenciled just above her right breast, demanded, “Just who the hell are you and what happened to Dr. Figeroa?”
Patrick imagined that another General in another universe was asking Patricia that same question right now.
I wrote this for Sunday Writing Prompt “Harlequin’s Mirror” hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. Today, the idea is to take the concept of a gateway into a mirror universe, and use it to craft a poem, short story, or some other creative work.
I love alternate universe stories, and write more than my fair share of them. Some decades, ago, I read a time travel story about a man investigating how differently he would manifest in multiple timelines. He ventured further from his own base history until he found a female version of himself. Naturally, he made love to her, which I suppose is the ultimate form of masturbation, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to do something similar (without the sex).
I’ve been busy lately with my writing class, and our three-year-old granddaughter spent Friday night and most of Saturday with us, so I haven’t had much of a chance to blog lately. I’ll try to be around more, but the rest of November promises to be just as busy.