Aphelion Issue 278, Volume 26
November 2022
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The Self-Contained Reality Door

by Sergio  “ente per ente” Palumbo

Edited by Michele Dutcher

A Mare Inebrium story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield

“It smells like a storm is rolling in…” Max whispered to himself. Standing at the entrance of the spacebar as he had many times before, the bartender looked towards the brown, barren hills situated not far from the busy, well-lit spaceport of Bethdish as the night quickly fell over them. Time to go inside, he told himself, before he walked through the doors, readying himself for the work to be done. The next long hours would be spent inside those walls and in its many rooms, where eyes could see things which had never been spotted previously, and ears could hear words that had never been spoken on this planet before today.

As usual, the delightfully furnished and stylishly designed inside of the Mare Inebrium SpaceBar, the famous  live venue regarded as one of the finest in the whole star sector, boasted an award-winning decor with vibrant and colorful offerings of diverse food and beverages that combined fresh local produce with interplanetary flavors. The many themed-rooms were crowded with different species walking around, sipping their drinks and juices, while chattering in a mish-mash of languages, accents and dialects. Their unique voices continuously filled the vast hall, with even Max the bartender finding it difficult at times to completely understand all of them. Everyone present seemed to want to be free of the drudgery of the working hours spent outside this bar, as they were all here to have an entertaining, good time.

Of course, there were always a few unpleasant issues a bartender had to deal with, problems to be solved and regrettable events that commonly popped up. Max put his mind to the small tables he had bought just a week ago, and that he would need to remove soon. He had placed them at the left end of the main room to give that space a new look, but now they would need to be hurriedly set aside as, unfortunately, the peculiar yellow glow of the tubular leg in the middle of each one reminded the slim and translucent aliens from Whrabl of their secretive mating rituals – making the tables highly offensive to them when publicly displayed. The bartender didn’t know much about that strange species but the fact that their organs were said to be diffused - spread out in a larger system within their bodies - meant that it was better not to openly upset them.

Well, there were always unknown circumstances you hadn’t considered, studied or found out about yet, Max thought.  Like that time he had tried to change the style of the armchairs used by the Olhvx, hoping to make their section as comfortable and cozy as possible. Those aliens were the horrid-looking pilots of the large Deep-Space Fuel Tankers from The Blue Belt of Forgotten Asteroids, possibly the ugliest starships in the entire sector. However, he had been told that such additions were just too similar to the old version of the armchairs they had used in the recreation areas aboard their long hauls where a terrible accident had occurred a few years ago and the furniture had been sucked into open space because of a sudden hull breach - along with a few well-liked crewmembers. So, such things were highly despised and needed to be removed immediately. Again, this had been another circumstance he didn’t know and one that had to be taken into consideration, in the best interest of the Mare Inebrium itself, of course.

Max had also pondered over putting a few tall ancient monolithic structures here and there in the main room, as if they were mysterious artifacts from a long-lost civilization on a planet whose culture had been extinguished at the beginning of a Stone Age no one knew anything about. However, after his recent disappointments in decorating, despite his very good intentions, he had thought twice before putting his next plan into action. What if his choice would offend those primitive corpulent aliens from Stone Jungle Planet that were so massive that they could no longer run and likely had trouble walking, but were very strong and could greatly damage the rooms if they became enraged? Or what if the faux ancient drawings he imagined putting here and there on such structures were reputed to be illegal by the Nle-e-e-e-n whose unusual shapes and structures included erectile tissues in various places all over the body or in strange locations that could remind them of their own strange, and funny looking features?

As you can see, a lot of troubles usually inhabited the ever-working mind of a man like Max. And he wasn’t somebody who went in search for trouble, obviously. 

And now the Mare Inebrium had new competition by a new spacebar, ‘The Five Arrows of Space-Time’, which had been completed less than month ago and was also close to the spaceport of Bethdish. As it always happened, a new venue attracted customers the same way the new opening of any promising restaurant on the planet made people curious and eager to have a look. All of that made any owner or bartender think about upgrading his own spacebar or making new offers to his regulars. The sooner, the better…

As Max moved to the room he had set aside as his personal office space, where he spent his time looking over documents and taking a break whenever possible, he looked at what time it was and thought that it was almost three. Every single week, it was the same story over and over again.

That was the day when he had to take care of some business, willingly or unwillingly. On those evenings, it commonly became a sort of unending parade of sales agents from the most varied worlds that came to this planet and entered his office trying to sell him their new products or beverages. These sales visits usually went like: this drink comes with these colored bottles now; or that well-known wine is out of production because of the ongoing civil war on planet Flrewbl (well, there always was a new or ongoing war on that desperate world…); or that food has happened to prove fatal for some minor species and it is now illegal – those kind of usual things. He certainly preferred to deal with the salespeople directly, but he wasn't always at the bar of course.

It was only after the short Uikl with fins spurting out from his back and from under his bulbous eyes too  - which he immediately blew off because it was the fourth time he had told him that the muddy beverages he proposed wouldn’t be a good fit at his bar, though they might be really appreciated on his native world that was made mainly of quagmires and shallow water… - that another guest paid him a visit. Well, this was an unexpected guest by all means.

The young man, around 30 or maybe 35, entered and stood before him, his hair bristling and a soft smile on his lips. He undoubtedly looked like a decent guy, dressed in an ordinary jacket and trousers, which wasn’t exactly what the bartender was used seeing in the sales agents that usually came here. And he had never seen him before…

“I don’t remember meeting you before,” Max told him. “Have you ever been here?” the bartender asked, eyeing him curiously, as he gestured for the guest to have a seat.

“This is my first time at the Mare Inebrium ever,” The chestnut-eyed man admitted. “Though I’ve heard many things about the great renown of this place of yours…”

“Ok, why are you here today? Trying to show me some new snacks, or tasty beverages?”

“Well, actually I’m here to sell you a completely different thing…By the way, my name is James Munsey, from Mars,” the young guest revealed.

“So, what is it? Tables, chairs, computers…What are you selling?”

“I’d like you to consider buying a door. To be clearer: a Self-Contained Reality Door.”

“A…what? Listen to me, I already have automatic doors, glass doors, wooden and metal doors for all the various themed-rooms on this level, and many reinforced doors elsewhere. As a matter of fact, last week we opened another large room with an Irish-themed setting…” the bartender told him, making a sour face and looking ill-at-ease.

“Yes, I know you have all such modern doors, and many old ones. I mean, I haven’t seen all of those with my own eyes, but given how big this venue is, it certainly must have a lot of doors in. What I am trying to sell you, however, is a completely new door that I have built myself,” the other insisted.

“So, you deal in furnishing bars with doors and the likes? You don’t look like an experienced sales agent…”

“I’m not. Actually, I am a scientist, and what I’d like to sell you is a door that is a machine to connect this world with another dimension. You certainly know about the theories in quantum-mechanical science about parallel universes that are separated from each other by a single quantum event?” James asked.

“What are you saying? What, precisely, do you want to put in this bar?”

The young man didn’t appear to be disappointed by his question, nor did he stop talking. “Throughout history going back to almost all ancient societies, people have believed in other dimensions. After all, the debate about various parallel universes has always been nothing less than the meaning of reality itself. It was discovered and confirmed recently that the world of existence we live in is a membrane, floating in an eleven-dimensional space-time multi-universe. And there are, maybe, many, or endless membranes.” He took a long pause and looked at Max. “Normally travel between these membranes is impossible, and only gravity, being the warping of space-time, has long been supposed to allow things to freely float into the space between universes. Most of those parallel dimensions are also reputed to probably be dead ones, consisting of a formless gas of subatomic particles, such as electrons and neutrinos. In these universes the protons might be unstable, so all matter as we know it would slowly decay and dissolve. But the truth is, simply, that there are more habitable dimensions than we could ever think of, and an unending number of life forms living there…”

The bartender nodded in silence, then replied, “You seem to be well grounded on science, by all means, I’ll give you that much.”

“As a scientist, I am, thanks. The reasons to get through and reach those other membranes I was talking about are pretty simple: to go exploring, to see and colonize more worlds than you could ever imagine. In the mind of a few researchers there is also a more practical purpose for wanting to leave the membrane we live in and reach others: ultimately, to escape the eventual death of our own dimension, one day, in the distant future. Think about the amount of assets from thousands of planets and millions of cultures that have been spent, the sweat of thousands of engineers and physicists, and the numerous corporations that have gone into painfully assembling, piece by piece, the technology to get to other universes. Some made it, at least in part, though with disappointing consequences until they quit while others disastrously failed. But here I am, with my new device, and it is based upon a science that no one ever thought to turn to so as to achieve this ultimate goal! And although I can’t give you the secrets of my device today, it’s the result that counts, and I can prove to you that it works!”

“So, did you develop such a device by yourself?” Max inquired of the salesman. “I’ve heard legends about the military on the planet Ilwiii working on a similar machine. There have always been tales in space about somebody trying to build a device to get to another dimension.”

“Actually, my research began in earnest when I heard about the attempts of that warlike planet to reach orher universes. But I developed a completely new device, building on studies of the Ilwiii.”

“I hope you’re not trying to sell me some military secret from Ilwiii themselves.” The face of the bartender darkened. “That species appears to hardly take lightly any creature stealing their ideas. I don’t want to wake up one day and find my space bar invaded by cyber soldiers, indestructible Ilwiii mecha or robotized flying wings with guns everywhere just because they heard about you having been here.”

“I did not. Though based on that research, it’s just the rules of physics that come into consideration, and their work on such a matter gave me the right motivation. All the rest of the design is mine and mine alone!” a serious James replied in a convincing voice.

“Okay, let’s say that I believe you,” a dubious Max nodded. “What’s in it for me?”

"Doubling your customers, at least, and by means of a single door..." the other made it clear, smiling.

“Your self-contained reality door…”


"Uhm..." Max whispered. After all, it seemed that there was easy money to be made here…and without much effort from him.

"Think about this again: a door leading to another dimension that is right in your bar, through which many and many new customers can step through, every night, every week, all year long. And all you need to do is allow me to do some work and build it in this bar."

"What's your pay in all of this?" asked the bartender, still appearing to be unconvinced.

"Maybe a part of the profits. Perhaps my end could be fifteen percent…” James proposed.

"Seven percent, no more..." he replied. ”After all, the danger in having such a new machine in my bar is all on me. What if it explodes or something goes wrong one day?"

"Seven percent it is."

"So, why are you so interested in building such a device here in my bar?"

James smiled softly. "If it works, and I can test it here over a long period of time, maybe it will be a chance for me to become rich. I could eventually sell it to many other venues undoubtedly."

“This would be good for you, of course, which is your goal. But my first thoughts are always on my business. On second thought, I might have a try at it and see what happens…”

“You’ll be pleased, you can count on that!” the young man yelled.


A glamorous half-human, half-Tblimt singer sat on a glowing chair situated on the stage, surrounded by goblin-like musicians. The appreciative crowd gleefully listened to his songs under the yellow-brown lights of that part of the spacebar.

Business as usual. This was what Max, the bartender, used to say, but now business was booming, having increased exponentially because of the draw of the new self-contained reality door.

The young salesman, James, had built his miracle of science. There were a multitude of new faces, most of them from species completely unknown or unheard of before - after all, how could have it ever been different, as his new customers were from a different dimension? They kept coming and visiting his spacebar, spending their gold coins and precious gems, which served as a universal currency for the moment, as they seemed to have value in both realities. Max was certain that sooner or later some other means of exchange would be made available… 

Within a few days of that door letting new and new creatures in, it had been a continuous mix of unprecedented clothes, strange costumes and unusual behaviors that had appeared on this side of reality in the Mare Inebrium. Certainly there were more unknown species than the bartender and his assistants had ever seen before. And there had always been many varied alien beings that came here from many different space systems, every single night, because of the great renown of the spectacular spacebar, even before another dimension had become available.

For a few minutes Max stood in the middle of the main room on the ground floor and looked around. There were already some peculiar Furr-Iel-Nms with hairy pointed tails,  several JKLeen from Grand Space Island II and  a few Fymv   males with huge mugs full of more than one type of ale from Earth, all mixed together. Since the time that door had opened a portal to another group of worlds, many other new species had appeared, so many in fact that their unending names could only have been kept track of with a powerful quantum computer. Some looked completely different from the aliens native to Max’s dimension, though others did not, and all species had many features in common with the creatures you commonly could find in the Mare Inebrium. This was a marvel in itself when you took into account that they came from an alternate reality, or a parallel plane of existence, that lay just past that strange new doorway.

Max was thinking of going back to his office for a break, when he suddenly changed his mind. Another representative from an unknown alien species was spotted by him while walking through the main room on the ground floor. The bartender noticed something in his facial expression, and in the way he moved that strangely attracted his interest. Short, dark-haired, no glasses or mustache, he was dressed in medium brown colors with a grayish colored apron. This outfit reminded him of the clothes he usually wore while on duty, except for the color of his apron… Max noticed his perceptive eyes, the experienced look he gave to the customers next to him as they entered and exited the rooms adjoining the main one. At this point a question popped into his mind so Max approached the new alien patron and asked him, “If I may…what’s your name?”

“Me? I’m Mahlz…” the other replied, eyeing him with a smile.

“What?” Max said.

“It’s Mahlz, pretty common on the world I come from. There is a huge busy spaceport there, too, not too different from the one you have here on Bethdish.”

“Really?” Max added. Every one of his new alien customers had a story telling how incredibly they had come into the Mare Inebrium’s dimension or how varied their life was on the other side of that door/portal. Of course, Max usually let them ramble on as he attempted to understand their point of view. After all, there were already so many different experiences to be recounted from alien species before the doorway had been activated, so one could only imagine how many strange ideas were now represented given the fact that new beings from another dimension were coming here every night. “Pleased to meet you, anyway. I’m Max, the appointed bartender of the Mare Inebrium.”

“So, our names are similar. This is why you looked surprised when you heard mine, probably. And I’m a bartender, too, and the proprietor of Hlub Hulfd, which in your language could be translated as The Drunk’s Sea, more or less. It’s a spacebar, several centuries old. We have many customers there just as you have here.”

“Centuries old? So, has it been handed down from one generation to the next?”

“Actually, things on my side of the portal are a little different than here.” The other approached Max, looked deep into his eyes, stood in silence briefly before revealing his truth. “I must confess that I’m an immortal. And, from the way you behave, and the overall sensation that I have in my mind, which is a particularity of my species, I see that you’re an immortal as well. How strange we met right here and right now.”

“An immortal, you say? How could you tell?”

“Being an immortal is something that can’t be kept secret for the ones like me, and looking into the depth of your eyes I was immediately able to see how experienced and very smart you are. This depth of mind is not like you can find in common individuals… I don’t think I am mistaken.”

You could tell from Max’s expression that he was worried.

“Oh, well, sorry if I have offended you, it was not what I wanted to do. Actually your peculiar condition was pretty clear - but you may have reasons to keep this a secret to the common customers, or to the mortal species that come here,” a more cautious Mahlz said.

“Well, possibly you were not mistaken, maybe I really am an immortal. But this is not a thing I want to share with others on this planet,” Max uttered in a low tone.

“I see…maybe it’s not a well-spread knowledge on this world, but immortality is pretty accepted where I come from,” the other added. “So we have many things in common, even more that I imagined when I first saw you. And do you want to know another funny thing?”

“What else?”

“I really like this bar, I truly mean it…in a way it’s so lively, trendy and full of customers from so many varied species I know so little about…I wouldn’t mind adding this venue to the list of properties I own on more than nineteen planets. In fact, this might be a great addition, and I have a good taste for good business, I rarely make mistakes when it comes to profits. Maybe I’ll make you an offer, one day or another…This is just something that I’m evaluating at present.”

“What makes you think I’m going to sell you this bar, one day or another?” Max sneered.

“As I told you, I have really a good instinct for such things, and it never happens that I can’t close a deal like this when I want to. I’ll make you an offer so rich that you can’t refuse. No one refuses my offers where I come from, and for many reasons...but for now we’re just talking. Anyway, if I decide to make you that offer of mine eventually, I would certainly change many things, starting with the personnel – at least that’s how I see it,” said Mahlz smiling. “Now if you will excuse me, I would like to sample the food.”

“Of course, as you like…” As the other man went away, the way Mahlz had talked left a sense of bitterness in Max’s mouth. How should he interpret such words? Had Mahlz made a menacing threat, or were those terms just the show of power of someone who knew how rich he was and that he always got what he liked, in the end? In either case, this wasn’t something that pleased him, surely. Or, maybe, was there something else that Mahlz was hinting at, something illegal?  Max had a sense that there was much more that Mahlz wanted to say, but couldn’t and that sense overpowered all other thoughts in the bartender’s mind.

There were too many things he didn’t know about the many species that come from that other dimension night after night, and new representatives from unknown populations kept coming and going. Were they, or some of them, ruled by a sort of galaxy-wide mob or space gang that didn’t allow too many choices for the few that dared oppose such aims? And was Mahlz a member of it all? Or one of their men of power?

He supposed there was more to discover about Mahlz’s uneventful behavior, that unbearable air of confidence and dangerous control. But he also saw no reason to waste time about that now.


“You have to put an end to it…” a cold Max told James. The two were in the bartender’s office and his words made it clear that he was not going to accept a refusal or a different opinion. Max had thought it all over and had come to this final conclusion.

"What? Why...?" the other tried to oppose.

“You know, there has been a considerable increase in the amount of turmoil and fighting among customers of different species, and the coming of new and unusual creatures has just added more trouble. My security has had too many problems to deal with since the doorway was put in.” A saddened Max made a face, but he knew that this was just half true. Actually, the men in his security force had lots of experience in preventing things from getting out of hand in the Mare Inebrium, and they were perfectly capable of dealing with new and new customers from different alien species that came here every night.

But there had been a real issue recently with fighting among beings whose consequences had proved to be unexpected. As a matter of fact, every crime that occurred in the spacebar had to be judged according to the law of the place, though this was the law in this dimension. However, the plane of existence those new aliens came from had other rules dictating that all these new customers had to be treated according to the laws of the planet they were from. So, such problems could become a sort of hellish thing for the lawyers here, with a serious debate about which set of laws to use. And there were no interdimensional agreements about how to deal with those accused, at least not yet. 

“So, is this the reason why you want to destroy all my hard work? Do you think you can stop it? I have made my project known, and it has attracted a lot of attention. I can always continue it by getting other funding, and this will happen easily. I will just build my portal again elsewhere,” the angered James burst out.

“I am afraid not…” the bartender replied. “The problems your device caused here have also attracted the attention of the authorities and they have issued a ban on your project. At least, for the time being it is illegal to continue the usage of your door, until they study the matter more seriously and more deeply. And I think this ban is going to be ordered also on many other worlds and last for a very long time,” Max uttered. He knew that also such thing was not entirely true. In fact, he had personally hired a lawyer to send a request for such a ban. His attorney was an eccentric man, a master at turning all the easy things into difficult ones: older than 79, he was of ancient Italian origin, or so he said, and he recounted that the country his family once came from was long accustomed to a judiciary system that was slow, very complicated and that, in other words, simply had never worked at all. If he was allowed to operate on different planets for enough time, the lawyer always said having a laugh at it, he would bring that inefficiency and unending legal trouble to many other worlds, spreading confusion and uncertainty everywhere. That meant that he would prolong the legal procedure of that ban far and wide, for many and many years, and in the end only a very dubious decision would be made by the judges, possibly, thanks to his devious experience. So, the matter wouldn’t be settled for a very long time. Which didn’t displease the bartender in this case, anyway…This also meant that Max would not see that dangerous device operating anywhere in their dimension for centuries probably, which meant that he wouldn’t meet that worrisome Mahlz again.

“The road to new science can’t be obstructed nor can it be stopped forever!” the other man insisted.

“I believe you’re wrong about that. Do you think that the science that a few years ago was developed and meant to increase the life of the sun of Kluen’s system – that ended up with turning that star into an unwanted supernova - or the gun that drained life energy from the wielder himself to fire more powerfully, was ever allowed to reach any marketplace, in the end? You know that such dangerous researches were stopped…” Max retorted.

The other didn’t reply, but anger didn’t leave his face.

"As far as your door is concerned, there are simply too many differences, and too many problems involved, you see..." added the bartender, trying to make the deluded James see the truth. "Our universes are too different..." He added this in a low tone, though in his mind he was actually thinking of the fact that there were way too many similarities, inappropriate similarities, and he could still see the image of Mahlz in his mind’s eye. 'I can't bear the presence of anyone else like me – the result would be too dangerous,’ Max told himself, while keeping an eye on the other man.

“We simply can’t allow the differences between our dimensions create an issue for the whole sector, for our universe! If allowed to go on, this could result in endless fighting, cruel battles or maybe even a war one day,” Max uttered without any doubt in his voice. But he knew the safety of his universe wasn’t his only concern, as a matter of fact.

According to the info the bartender had gotten thanks to his secret informants, Mahlz's goals were usually obtained using disasters and assassinations, which seemed to be the easiest way of achieving true perfection in Mahlz’s mind. Damaging his financial adversaries through murder or scandal or ruin were the remarkable things Mahlz appreciated most of all.

Not exactly the alien customer, or person, you would like to deal with, or stumble into by chance… The thought of the two of them ever to cross paths again made him feel ill at ease. Besides, he couldn’t ever allow that one to violate one of this spacebar’s simplest rules: never try to rob a bartender of his beloved job or take his place and put him out of business, undoubtedly! 

What better option did Max have than to close the door - that Self-Contained Reality Door - once and for all? ‘Do your best to keep that passage shut,’ a cunning Max told himself as James moved away in despair. ‘In doing so you'll also keep away all those unwelcomed winds and very troubling whispers that have come to your ears so far’.

What really counted, Max surmised, was that the door of wisdom that lay in his mind would never be shut, certainly.


2017 Sergio Palumbo

Bio: Sergio Palumbo is an Italian public servant who graduated from Law School working in the public real estate branch. He has published a Fantasy RolePlaying illustrated Manual, WarBlades, of more than 700 pages. Some of his works and short- stories have been published on American Aphelion Webzine, WeirdYear, Quantum Muse, Antipodean SF, Schlock!Webzine, SQ Mag, etc.,and in print inside 32 American Horror/Sci-fi/Fantasy/Steampunk Anthologies, 52 British Horror/Sci-Fi Anthologies, 2 Urban Fantasy/Horror Canadian Anthology and 1 Sci-Fi Australian Anthology by various publishers, and 22 more to follow in 2017/2018.

He is also a scale modeler who likes mostly Science Fiction and Real Space models, some of his little Dioramas have been shown also on some Italian (scale model) magazines like Soldatini, Model Time, TuttoSoldatini and online on American site StarShipModeler, MechaModelComp, on British SFM: UK site and Italian SMF .

The total list of Sergio's publication credits was once typed up and printed in full, whereupon it immediately underwent gravitational collapse from its own mass, and became a black hole that swallowed three nearby solar systems...

“Michele Dutcher, aka Bottomdweller, lives in a carriage house in Old Louisville Kentucky with her border collie – Daisy Dukes. She has a BS degree in Elementary Education from Indiana University with minors in theology & sociology and has been writing Science Fiction stories for about a decade. She edits all the first drafts of Sergio’s short stories.”

E-mail: Sergio Palumbo

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