by Roderick D. Turner
The ball curled, spinning, upwards and sideways, slicing beyond the
top left crossbar. A miss, again. Well, almost. I felt the little
shiver, the slight lurch, the now familiar blink. The back of the net
bulged. I smiled, raised a fist in the air and yelled, my teammates
echoing the shout. Amateur to pro in a matter of weeks.
"You lucky son of a bitch." Eddy was self-styled team captain. Like
all the rest he couldn't quite figure it out. "I don't know how you do
it. A month ago you couldn't pass to save your life, and now you thread
the needle like Maradona. Way to go." He thumped me on the back, the
others crowding round to follow suit. The winning goal. First time, the
winning goal. I swaggered just a little as I left the field and headed
over to where Lena stood beside her little Suzuki.
"I never thought of you as an athlete," she said. Her eyes sparkled
with their usual energy, an impudent smirk on that unforgettable face.
"I figured this was just for fun. You know, a little gentle humility is
always good for the soul."
My buoyant mood suddenly vanished, the balloon of my ego deflating
with an almost audible sigh. "It is," I said. "And you're expert at
bringing me back to earth. I don't know why I hang around with you."
She opened the passenger door and ushered me inside. "No debate on
that one." She slammed the door and swung into the cockpit. "You can't
stand to be without me. I'm your ball and chain, Paul. Not to be
The skycar lurched as she yanked back on the stick, vaulting us into
the air. In seconds, the field was a green patch far below with colored
ants massing along its edges. We swung into the cross-town traffic on
layer six. Lena hit the autopilot, turned, gave me a hard look.
"So what's going on?" she said. "I mean, for real. Your buddies on
the field know something is up, but they don't have the nerve to ask
you the direct question." Again, the impish smile. "I do."
I'd debated this moment in my mind for over a week, knowing it would
come, not sure how I would respond, but this was Lena. Only the truth
"Lena, you ever hear the word causality?"
"Yeah, it's like one thing leads to another, all that stuff. Cause
and effect. You hit someone in the nose and they bleed."
I could always count on Lena to paint a colorful picture. "Something
like that. Except it's all crap. I spent three years of university
learning all about classical physics, then a little quantum, until
eventually they quietly began mentioning this guy Feynman and his
theories. And you know what? Everything else is just crap. Filler.
Because what comes out of Feynman's work is so very simple that it
invalidates everything else, yet so profound that nobody seems to have
really understood the implications."
She nodded. "Sure. Fine. Mister Fine Man. What does this have to do
with your little stunts on the soccer field?" She flipped back to
manual drive, shoved the stick forward hard and we nose dived
groundward. "Yeee-haaa!" she yelled. At the last instant she leveled us
out, a gut-wrenching lurch that brought us into street traffic a block
from our apartment. "What a rush."
I took a deep breath, waited for my head to stop spinning. "Why do
you always have to do that?"
"It's my way of messing with your causality. Dive steep enough,
sooner or later you'll crash. Even with the automatic avoidance
systems. Cause and effect. But until that happens, there's no buzz
quite like it." She pulled the skycar into the parking garage, swerved
into a spot and shut down. "Reminds me of what you're doing on the
field, Paul," she said. Her gaze was cool, the words chosen carefully.
"It's like you're riding the odds and winning every time. Picking the
best outcome from each situation. But sooner or later causality will
catch you. Mess around with nature enough, and it'll get you." The
smile was back. "Every time."
"I should've expected an observation like that from a Philosophy
major," I said. "But you're only partly right. Yes, I'm picking my
outcomes. Doing it in real time, but I'm not changing any natural laws.
More like--" I floundered for the words, "scanning the possibilities.
Choosing the ones I want."
"Bull." Lena unbuckled and climbed out, headed for the elevator.
She did not even glance back.
Lena was a dangerous companion at the best of times, but really
scary when she got like this. Still, tired as I was I could not let the
situation escalate. I caught her just as the elevator door opened,
squeezed inside with her. In that crowded space we could not talk, not
really, merely nod mechanically, and mutter token greetings to the
other passengers. Even when we stepped out onto the seventy ninth
floor, we were not alone. It was not until we were safely behind our
apartment door that I grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her to face
"This is for real, Lena," I said. "I've figured it out. Cause and
She twisted away viciously, her glare icy as a flash freeze. "You
are so full of it, Paul," she said softly. "I don't need this. Either
you come clean or I'm gone."
I tried to take her by the shoulders again but she wrenched herself
free. "Lena, please—"
"What have you got yourself into? Some experiment at the university?
Are you some kind of weird guinea pig, or a lab rat sent out into the
world to test a new theory?"
"I worked it out on my own." I said. "I'm the only one who knows.
Well, except you, now. I guess I am kind of experimenting, learning as
"That's enough." She pushed past me heading for the bedroom. I
sighed, took a deep breath, and followed. The infamous hitchhiker's
backpack was already on the bed by the time I walked in.
"Let me show you." It was the only way, now. I held her wrist.
Before she could pull away, I completed the shift. Still holding her
wrist, I knew both of us had gone. She still had a hand out ready to
unzip the bag. But there was no bag on the bed.
"What the--" Her gaze held a mix of anger and confusion now, and I
knew I'd made my point.
"We're all connected, Lena. Every physical location, every time, all
connected. It's all in the probabilities. If you put a bag on the bed
and reach out to grab it, the highest probability is that you'll
succeed, but there's a finite chance you won't. In fact, there's even a
small chance the bag will not even be there."
She stared at me, the muscles of her jaw working. "Where is my bag,
Paul?" she said at last.
I could not really know for sure, but that was not an answer she
wanted to hear. "Perhaps it's still in the closet."
She strode to the closet, pulled open the door. The backpack was
there, thank goodness. But--already full.
"What have you done?"
"For any moment in space and time there are an infinite number of
paths leading in or out. And that means, there are an infinite number
of paths in parallel to our present one. Time doesn't work the same in
all of them. We might have been born a hundred years earlier, later or
not at all. But the closest paths are those that spread out forward in
time from a very recent moment. Say, from our arrival in the parking
garage. In all the nearby paths we're standing here in the bedroom, but
in some just a little further away, we might be in the kitchen. Or
still in the garage, arguing." She was listening now. "I've learned how
to shift between paths. The nearest ones, mostly, while I'm getting the
hang of it, but lately, I'm going further."
"The soccer," she said. "You're scanning parallel paths to find one
of those that allows you to get past an opponent, rather than being
tackled. To get the ball into the net, rather than it going wide." She
reached down and hefted the backpack. "The bag."
I nodded. "Until that, I'd only shifted by myself. And I'm worried
that if I go too far from here, I'll end up losing my connection to
you." This time when I took her by the shoulders she did not pull away.
"Will you come with me, Lena?"
Her dark eyes were huge as she stared into mine. "Where?" she
"Exploring. Realities. Time. The universe."
Her throat moved convulsively as she swallowed. Then a quizzical
look stole across her face. "Why are you the only one that can do this?"
I laughed. First a chuckle, then as I thought about it, a
full-bodied laugh, as much with relief as humor, stunned at how
perception could be so blind. After a few moments, she laughed too in
spite of herself. "I'm not the only one, Lena," I said at last. "We all
do it. Think about it. The times you're sure you put your keys in a
certain place but when you look they're gone. Or moved. You shifted,
involuntarily. In your original path, the keys are still where you put
"What happens to the version of ourselves that was already in the
other path? The other one of us?"
"I'm not sure, really. All I know is I've never seen another me, but
then I haven't shifted far. Who knows what we'd find if we go further
out. My guess--when we shift, they shift, and so on in a giant cascade.
Millions, maybe billions of paths change all in parallel. But so
slightly that nobody really figures out what's happening."
She digested this. "How do you do it, Paul?" she said. "If we all do
this involuntarily, how do you consciously change paths? Choose paths?"
I walked to the window, looked down at the tiny people on the street
far below. "Those meditation classes you insisted I attend with you
were the key," I said. "Once I understood the concepts, I wondered how
the connection might be made, but didn't really see what was going on
until I started examining my own thoughts, my own being." I turned back
to look at her. "And then suddenly I realized what was really going on
inside my head while I was floating in peaceful bliss—all that
background noise in my brain was not noise at all. For centuries we've
known our minds are vastly more powerful than we could ever fully
understand, that we use only a small fraction for daily function. The
rest, it's like a big space-time locating device, a causal GPS system.
It fixes us in space and time but is fully capable of locking onto
different beacons, if you will. I learned to use it in scan mode." I
was beside her again, my arms round her shoulders, drawing strength
from her gaze. "And then, how to latch onto new coordinates."
We were standing there, locked together, when the world lurched. Our
building rocked, then went into a series of trembling vibrations. A
gentle rumbling crept into my subconscious. "Earthquake," I said.
Already scanning. Shifting.
The room was the same but the rumbling, the shaking were gone.
Outside the late afternoon sun shone bright in a blue sky, a faint
orange glow glinting off the west-facing windows of the apartment tower
across the street.
In our bedroom before the quake had begun, there had been no
apartment tower across the street. And the sky had been cloudy and grey.
"Paul." Lena was staring into the closet, and at first I did not
notice the change. Then I realized that her backpack was not the same,
a different size and style, empty not full. As I looked more carefully
the small differences became more obvious. Yet it was the apartment
tower that really had me on edge.
"I panicked," I said.
"How far did you shift?"
I had reached out almost blindly across the paths, chosen one
without plan or intent, and shifted. Who was to say how long our
building would have lasted if I hadn't reacted. That earthquake....
"Lena, don't let go my hand," I said. My thoughts went back to the
moment I felt the first shaking--and I realized it had not been the
first change. I'd been staring at the rug on the floor, my mind fully
engaged on the explanation to Lena. As the shaking started--the rug had
changed. Different shape. Slightly different colors. "It was another
me. Another you. They shifted out of the path that held the earthquake.
We were bumped out of our path into theirs. And then, I took us to yet
another path." My mind was working frantically, trying to figure out
what had happened. Why I'd never experienced this kind of sudden change
that was out of my control.
"It must be that there are two of us now," Lena said. "Shifting
together. Maybe it causes a larger disruption than just one person
"I'm not giving you up, Lena. We go together, or not at all."
This time I sensed it. I noticed subtle changes, felt the shiver run
down my back, noticed the blink as we shifted. "It's happened again." I
ran to the window, still clutching Lena's hand. People were like bugs
on the street below us, and I realized that our apartment was not just
seventy nine floors up – there had to be hundreds of floors below us.
Yet the panic in my chest was not reflected in Lena's gaze. She touched
my cheek with her free hand. "Let's work it out, Paul. What can we do
to control this?"
"We've caused some kind of rippling across the paths. Like a stone
thrown into a pond. Given enough time, the ripples should die down?" I
had never been more unsure of my thoughts.
This time I could see that Lena felt the lurch as we shifted. The
blink must have lasted a full second. My explanation, my hope that the
ripples might be dying away shattered in an instant. The apartment was
now a one room, single bed in the living room-dining room with a tiny
kitchenette. Out the window the ground had suddenly rushed up to meet
us, and we were no more than three floors up. The street was poorly
maintained, filled with the ancient ground cars I had only ever seen in
old digital images.
"We have to get out of this room," I said. I could hear the hysteria
in my words. Still holding Lena's arm I headed for the apartment door.
Hauled it open, out into a dingy hallway whose only exit was to a
graffiti-encrusted stairwell. We stumbled as we descended the second
flight, the stairs suddenly crumbling beneath us, dropping us three
meters to the ground. The apartment tower, the buildings were all gone.
We lay in a heap amongst the remains of what had once been a structure.
There was not a soul in sight. A wasteland lay around us, a smoking
ruin, as though it had been leveled moments before by a vast explosion.
Sobbing, I pulled Lena to me and held her. She stroked my hair,
soothing. "It's ok, Paul," she said. "Enough for one day. I think the
lesson is learned."
The shift was so sudden and so jarring that I felt gravity had
abandoned us. My grip on Lena was a lifeline, my only remaining
connection with reality. The blink was in slow motion. Like falling
through a hole in the fabric of the universe. I realized I had closed
my eyes. When I opened them, we were standing in our bedroom. The
backpack was on the bed, Lena reaching for it. My hand on her wrist.
Realization hit me like--a punch in the nose.
"Had to help you with your training before you got too out of
She smiled. Mischievously.
© 2013 Roderick D. Turner
Bio: Mr. Turner says, 'I like writing stories, and am
particularly pleased when I find I enjoy what I have written. That is
the best part of writing - you are after all most often your only
audience. Second best is when you start writing about a character and
they take over, almost literally writing the story themselves. Then you
read it through and the characters surprise even you. Several of my
stories have appeared in Aphelion, most recently Drift
in November 2012. For more of my material, both prose and other media,
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