By David Risona, PhD
Summary: A mad scientist meets his hostile counterpart from an alternative universe.
The very concept of the infinite is troubling upon reflection, to both the believer and the skeptic. One, vast and unfeeling cosmos may feel impersonal enough, but many worlds offer a very personal, visceral contrast. In the terrifying infinitude of parallel universes, there are uncountable alternatives of myself. It is a particularly unique set of circumstances that allowed me to experience that directly. For all the impersonal enormity of existence, I experienced the dubious chance to behold a particular contrast.
Following a friend's harassment by an unknown party, I pursued the party responsible using means I loathe to detail here. Suffice to say, I came to believe someone with alarmingly personal knowledge was at stake based on what my friend experienced. As an experienced researcher, I arrived at a conclusion I understand was immediately unproveable in any meaningful context, but one I resolved to rectify immediately: My friend had been endangered by a parallel version of myself.
I shall not bore you with the investigation and theory by which I tracked the interlopers means of entry and exfiltration from our own brane of existence. Quite predictably, it led to a familiar basement laboratory. I sent through a toy drone to infiltrate that gate, which attached a device to the circular steel frame that overrode boobytraps similar to those I applied in other contexts. Having steeled myself for what may wait on the other side, I stepped through.
I was prepared for hostilities the moment I stepped through. I knew what I was capable of, and I took every precaution I could conceive of. I wore a combat helmet, ballistic googles over my glasses, a body armor vest, and a respirator in case of poison gas. As a tall and experienced runner with a decade of martial arts experience and an active man of three decades, I was more than confident in my ability to defeat my counterpart. In addition, I armed myself with a kukri and a black-powder Remington 1858. Under necessity of rapid exfiltration, I used a special device that would teleport me back and slag the portal behind me.
My trusty revolver was loaded with a powder mixture of my own concoction, more likely to wound than to kill, and able to cast a thick cloud of smoke to cover my advance. I used the reduced-power load in conjunction with rubber bullets, as I hoped to interrogate whatever counterpart this universe produced. So long as I had the brain intact, my exotic life-support systems and neural interfaces could perform the rest.
I ascended the stairs to see a disturbingly familiar kitchen, almost entirely identical to the own in my own parents' house. I saw family photos on the wall that looked almost like my own, save for two faces. As the oldest in my own world, I saw my own baby picture replaced by a mewling girl. My younger sister's picture was now that of my younger brother, or someone that looked remarkably like him. I wondered if the birth order of siblings had been switched, with the sole sister as the oldest of three, instead of the youngest, as in my world. Knowing myself, I'm sure the youngest still got the worst of it.
My friend hadn't directly seen his tormentor, so all of this information was new to me. I listened for any signs of activity, but I thankfully heard none. I presumed the family was out our absent, so I set about exploring what this all-too-familiar has was like. I headed to my room first, catching site of the living room beside the stairs. Tupperware boxes were stacked around the furniture, and I presumed it was due to some redecorating or cleaning. I did not care, as my overwhelming curiosity drive me towards my dimensional doppelganger's room.
What disturbed me about that room was not its familiar location at the end of the upstairs hall from the stairs. It was disturbingly similar to my own room, yet the differences were apparent at even a superficial glance. The half titles on the bookshelf were the familiar blend of science fiction, fantasy, history, philosophy, textbooks, and thrillers, although I could not recognize about half the titles. In the opened closet hung a worn martial arts gi, smaller than my own frame, and belts of various colors. The other clothes were military-style camouflage vests, lab coats, and outfits with that drab earth-tone I'd come to love. I saw a familiar pile of weapons, with blades, dissembled guns, and a few things I embarrassingly did not recognize. On the wall was a doctorate from the same university I attended, only in mechanical engineering instead of my own electrical engineering. At least I now had a name for my enigmatic quarry: Judith Risona, Ph.D.
I descended the stairs without the slow, deliberate movements I exhibited before, eager to explore more of the house. Within the living room, I saw a half-opened box containing archery targets and arrows. I wondered if my counterpart had been stricken by the obsessive interests that characterized our design and prototyping spurts. I wondered if I'd be able to get a look at what she'd been working on lately. Before I could react, she entered from the back door. Glancing briefly through the back window to see a perforated archery target in the backyard, I imagined what my own fate would be.
Judith entered with a bow in hand, a low-draw weight bow with a strange box-like magazine attached to the frame. The arrow that she trained on me had a bulbous, but pointed tip, which I dove behind cover to avoid. She was at least two heads shorter than me, with red hair shaved in a close buzzcut. She was dressed in an olive tank top more like a soldier than a scientist, revealing her Olympian build. On her side was a Lee-Enfield bayonet, slipped into her jeans like a makeshift dagger. She advanced, plucking the bowstring with the ease of a string instrument. It whizzed just millimeters above cover, before striking one of her baby photos on the desk behind me.
I returned fire with my revolver, creating a thick, dark cloud of roiling smoke. An arrow struck where I'd been a second earlier, and I decided a tactical withdraw was in order. An arrow sailed through the front window, and struck an unlucky squirrel. The poor mammal's chest swelled and exploded, sending entrails flying across the front lawn. I fired another shot into the previous cloud, running as I realized the truly diabolical ingenuity behind those arrowheads. Each had a compressed gas canister that expanded when it struck something, causing the target to swell and die quickly. I knew my armor didn't cover my entire body, but one shot from that, and I'd be dead anyway.
As my remaining rounds went dry, I drew my kukri and dove through the window. I heard her yelling something behind me, and I did not care enough to respond to it. Instead, I ran through a wilted flowerbed and around the side of the house. I activated the escape tether device, and the last thing I saw was her rounding the house with an arrow ready to fly. I still remember her face, that look of pure hatred as I go running back through the dimensions.
I was reasonably confident my own sabotage destroyed her portal, but I know it is not the end. She discovered a way to breach the fabric of the multiverse to this universe before, and I am confident she will do so again. I wonder if perhaps my friend in her universe is some bitter enemy she swore to hunt across dimensions, so hateful as to try to eradicate the entirety of their existence. Knowing myself, I am well-aware she'll be expanding that vendetta towards other versions of herself. I have little doubt she's reverse-engineering my own weapons and tactics from our brief encounter. The absence of her siblings and parents, as well as the general disrepair in the other rooms and property, causes me to bode ill regarding their fates.
As terrifying as Lovecraft's vast cosmos was, it was at least impersonal in its hostility. After my friend was threatened, I expected a mundane thug at most. I've avoided reflecting on the surreality of my circumstances, as to preserve what's left of my own sanity. While there are forces far greater than a single person, the pettiness of this situation is nevertheless disheartening. In this immeasurably large universe, is someone with my upbringing and intellect wasting time pursuing such small things instead of pressing cosmic issues? I sighed, but I do not rest. She is like me, and unlike me, in all the ways that matter. We enjoy similar hobbies and reading. We enjoy British Empire melee weapons from the Victorian period. We both had archaic weapons with modern upgrades, but that will likely not be the case for our next meeting. We may share an intellect and similar technological insights, but that is where the similarities end. I know they will only end when one of us stops breathing. I aim to ensure that will not be me.