In an overcoat buttoned tight against the elements, a professor walked down a street. Heavy skies broke overhead in a drenching cloudburst. People ran for cover and sheltered under cheerful awnings as they pulled up hoods. Brollies unfurled skyward. Professor Bryn Alva carried on his way regardless. Awful grey days were not unusual this time of year in Geneva city. Cold drops of water trickled down his neck and absorbed into his wet shirt collar, causing him to shiver. Fine strands of silver hair plastered down to his forhead.
“Damn” he said out loud - it was all he needed.
Glaring the Professor moved on, usually when he walked deft use of his walking cane kept him balanced. Today he struggled, his body shook, ankles disobeyed, making him lurch. He stumbled, splashing through the burbling rivulets. With each step grief, wounding pain made it feel like the pathway of the damned.
“Where are we” he called out to a passer by as soon as he was close enough, they looked away, no reply.
The extraordinary thing was he had no recollection of what he was doing here. No recall of anything before walking down this street. Confusion weighed in. Feeling nauseous, he pulled a scrunched brown bag from beneath the damp wool coat. Urgent gulps of cider gurgled down as he threw the empty into the gutter. People stared on offended. On second thoughts he considered his action and bent over to retrieve it. Some things are sacrosanct and recycling was still one of them. As he did so a letter fell from his pocket unnoticed joining the city detritus. Bryn wasn’t the archetypal eccentric professor. He had his quirks of which the coat was one. He had his betters, the giants of physics whose shoulders he could not stand on, but he filled his own niche. The respected club to which he belonged had none other who could claim to be a science wizard.
Bryn was grateful for the coat, wool repels water well, the fit was good, he’d always relished how the coat felt. Smart, soft yet masculine. Sentimentality for the things of his youth had its origins in the poverty they’d braved back then. The coat more than any other belonging typified this. The fine red lining was intact, no good reason existed to part company. He’d never given a second thought to where it had come from, or to whom it had belonged. No one wore Crombie’s any more but such thoughts were frivolous. Quality speaks, never mind it was Charity shop wear, isn’t that what poor students do? People in his path might at the moment assume the man in the ebony black coat was a bum, give him foot room. He looked unkempt, unshaven. The homeless, drug dealers, they have that perpetual 10 O’clock stubble like he wore today. The vigorous silver grey stubble peppered his chin, made him look older and somehow dirty. Not the type they were in the habit of sharing their pavements with. It was a nice area of the city, indeed he was quite well turned out as a matter of course, today was an exception. Dehydration and excessive thirst glued his swollen tongue to the palate of his mouth. To his knowledge there was an off licence nearby. The notion that cider would heal this affliction drew him on. Discomfort and stress were beginning to do his head in.
The scientist who normally would have headed straight home after work couldn’t, didn’t quite recognise this street, it was familiar but at the same time not. He halted, pulled an iphone out to call Peter his manager, he’d tell him he’d lost it and they’d both laugh. Orange street lights reflected off the black glass screen until the white light of its inner workings illuminated. Peter was not in the contacts list, come to that none of the names in there were familiar. At a loss, he took off on a direction that headed towards main station. Familiarity mingled with small incongruities. Bryn didn’t find the off licence where expected, a shot of panic rose up in his throat - perhaps a better plan was to find somewhere to eat and wash up while he worked it out.
The first fingers of darkness reached out over tall city buildings as shadows drew across its streets, simultaneously pushing the day on to its conclusion. Normally mild mannered Bryn was uncharacteristically irritated, at odds with the impending darkness and with the irrationality of everything, given to uncertainty when he should be with Indira his wife. Life had given him every reason to be happy, thus far success had come at most everything he touched. A great job and a beautiful wife who was everything to him, he loved her to distraction.
On the face of it the sum of his entire life looked perfect. Success hadn’t come easy, truth was it hid the real sacrifices. Coming from a poor northern city of the UK. there had been few opportunities until he won the scholarship. Hard work was the foundation of his success, that too wasn’t the whole story, life was not perfect. Last year she had packed his bags. There was a precious thing missing, a happiness that had not visited them, they wanted a child to complete their happiness. Recognition had always been the other wish, to be counted up there among the greats of science. That was what mattered, that was the stuff of his dreams.
The marriage was a good one, without doubt they were devoted to one another, but other than which faithfully following their own career paths. It wasn’t until they reached that point of unbreakable love, comfort and financial security that they even considered having children. It wasn’t to be. Years of IVF followed beset with yearning and disappointments. They no longer allowed themselves the joy and elation you’d expect in pregnancy, they dared not hope, too often they had found these dashed. Each loss left profound emptiness, the indelible footprints of misery across their lives. How could they go through it all again? Their longing was so great that they endured, despite the silence, the missing noise of children. ‘Never say never’ they had said in the beginning but in time that became ‘this is the last cycle - no more’.
Bryn was pacing out a new sort of misery, his agitation grew on the unfamiliar street, thinking of her comforted him, pulling earplugs from his pocket he stuck them into his ears, the sound of the music drowned out the sounds of the sidewalk. He lost himself in thought, self absorbed he cut a straight line into a mall that intersected into a night cafe. Now staring into the depths of a vending coffee, frothy brown deposits stuck to the plastic, which he dragged around with a teaspoon contemplating the stringy mess deeply. There was a problem he didn’t know how to solve. He didn’t know where he was. Worse, Indira had gone for a scan, she should have called, let him know how it had gone. He’d heard nothing.
Last year things had come to a head at home, he had returned from work to find his suitcases packed in the front hallway. Indira told him to leave. He had cried unashamedly at the time, feelings were running high.
“I can’t live like this anymore” she had thrown at him “I’m bitter, snappy, every little thing you leave out of place infuriates me. You scold me for nothing and harp on about work endlessly. You spend more quality time with Peter and Rick than me. What am I - the plague” she’d wailed at him broken.
“I am hopelessly in love with you” he had yelled “don’t do this, can’t you see what happening” he uttered taking her by the shoulders, she started shaking, crumpled fell to the floor.
Wrapped in his arms they sat there, him holding her until the grief subsided. “I want to spend my life with you, children or no, I promise you”. He whispered, then kissed the unbearable pain from her lips until she remembered nothing but his sincerity.
A few weeks later when emotions had quieted he broached it. “Lets adopt - we always thought we would if this didn’t work out” he said. She nodded.
While they thought to adopt there was a different twist in their journey, nature had other plans, she conceived naturally, to their surprise she was again pregnant. Keeping plans for this child close to their chest until the danger time had passed was hard. At 19 weeks they breathed a sigh of relief, relaxed into a comfortable space where they could delight in shared moments. It was only yesterday evening when she was prepping food he pushed close behind her, flipping her shirt up he ran his hands over her baby bump.
“Umm, that’s good, she said taking pleasure in his touch. Warm breathy kisses played down her neck stopping at her earlobes, he whispered.
“That’s our baby in there, we made it happen” his hands turning her around to face him.
“The food” she protested weakly.
He kissed her brushing her hair back, nuzzling into it, smelling her wholesome fragrance.
“I’ll help you set the table after” he said.
There was everything to look forward to. They’d settled into an expectation, that’s what made the scan results this morning all the more alarming. Unfortunately she had gone quite early and alone for her 20 week scan, Bryn had to work. All seemed well as the ultrasound technician pointed out the head, bottom, legs, face, there’s the rib cage, organs, then stopped with a frown, she applied more gel explaining it could be a poor connection. She was looking for heart function but was not seeing any.
“I’ll just call my colleague” the operative said eventually, who in turn organised an admission. The Doctor explained the need for further tests and examination - it was for the best he reassured. She wasn’t prepared for this - a creeping sense of deja vu edged in. Fear and unreality alloyed, no one had said the words she dreaded yet, but they hung in the air. Once they were said reality would be changed forever. She texted Bryn immediately, knowing he’d hurry from work as soon as he heard.
In the cafe Bryn still clasped the empty cup, the memory of a blast was inching back to him, there had been an explosion. An explosion? Bryn concluded he was being a bit of a t&*t, where did he get that idea from, he should pull himself together. Google earth located him to Geneva, all fine and good, more concerning Yahoo was incapable of finding CERN. Countless times the search engine came back ’did you mean Lucern - we have given you the results for Lucern’ . It just didn’t figure. He sat pensive, yes, he was certain, he was caught in a blast at CERN, it was clear in his mind how he struck the yellow radiation door. What had he been working on?
“Okay” he told himself, access staff profiles from Lucern see what’s what. Pictures from their website deepened his concern - he wasn’t there, not Bryn Alva neither was Peter. It was a joke, “Busted” he to himself, half amused looking around but no one was about. Doh, how silly of me he thought, there was a profile picture after all, there I am. There was a typo - his name had been entered as Brian, his picture looked just as he expected, distinguished silver hair, exquisite features.
A recollection of terrible pain hit him, in an automatic response he cradled his head.
“That deserved a slap” he said aloud.
Bryn knew objectively there could be one answer, but it was such a crazy out-there explanation, one he contemplated with disbelief. He had died in that blast. Impossible, it was impossible for him to have died and be alive, yet here he was, and he was called Brian. He could have been involved in a functional shift, moved from the single path of his usual existence. The explanation fit, he could be here if the blast caused an energy-matter disruption, a failure in the threshold which he’d moved through. Not knowing how that could be he questioned himself out loud.
“What sort of rabbit hole does that, swallows you up and spits you out in another?” Bryn questioned.
Of course there were logical answers, He had tasted God’s humor, had become one with Brian, his counterpart in another parallel. Two life forces, one mind, one body. He should have been grateful, if it wasn’t for this anomaly he’d have perished. Disbelief at this freakish outcome receded, everything pointed to it. Bryn experienced a moment of crippling loneliness, he wanted Indira, to hold her, to know how the baby was, to tell her he loves her, but he couldn’t - not now, Bryn was not the man he was earlier. As unique as that made him in the history of mankind, it only compounded his woeful feeling of loneliness and loss. He felt all alone in the universe, however being stuck in this cerebral hemisphere with Brian, it wasn’t strictly true. For those without a Brian being all alone in the universe must be the loneliest place in the universe.
The best minds had contended with these questions and it’s a fact that Bryn had spent most all his life thinking about nothing much else, until he had met Indira. What would happen if you moved into a parallel world? What happens to consciousness, do parallel counterparts exist, would meeting them cause a paradox. If you were them to whom would the consciousness belong, is it theirs or yours or both? Bad science is good if it allows philosophers to get off.
Some of the best scientific discoveries have been made by mistake, pure accident and this one was no exception. A fluke however is still a discovery.
There’s a lot of naivety in the way we think about reality, what it is and how we think it works. By any standards of weirdness the bizarre possibilities Bryn’s experiment had just realised must have at least equaled the infinite monkey theorem. He had unlocked an ordered work on a universal scale though whether it would be a Shakespeare remained to be seen. As a physicist his experiments were all backed up by solid science, researched, testable, quantifiable, repeatable, that was the whole point, to come up with something consistent that everyone could recognise and agree on. He was at the forefront in his area, was being the operative word, unfortunately something had gone wrong - his head had exploded on the other side of the yellow radiation door, the red lights were still flashing and his colleagues would just be discovering his remains.
Explaining the complexities of an infinite multiverse, suggesting how things could exist in several states at once had been theory until now. His contemporaries had harked on about it since the 50′s though they proved nothing other than vivid imaginations. With the rudimentary technologies and resources available of the past it ensured no real progress was made. Daleks remained stubbornly at the bottom of every staircase until the overarching forces of technological advancement caught up in sophistication. Blazing a trail Daleks lifted their wheels off terra firma.
By the millennium science reached an unprecedented point, it had gotten aggressive building massive structures for smashing tiny particles with the biggest guns in the universe. People began to fear the end. They imagined this tinkering would result in something dramatic like creating a black hole or a big bang. What they imagined might be the the stuff of science fantasy, but the reality of the boring everyday present where workers took their packed lunches to work wasn’t exactly compelling. The scientists of course hoped to glimpse some distant horizon of understanding, to find answers to the most pressing questions about the nature of our world, our universe, even reality itself. Huge global resources were poured in, not out of idle curiosity about what you could do with 27 kilometers of magnets and an accelerator, but to catch a glimpse of creation itself. As it was over the years countless sandwiches were eaten by staff, CERN smashed its daily diet of protons (with a few xenon and lead for variety), the world carried on as usual, nothing of great import happened or was discovered, until that day he found himself wandering around Geneva dazed.
In his past life Bryn had never felt that he measured up to the Einsteins and Newtons of this world, those with the towering intellects and reputations. He was in the past a science wizard, not a wizardly scientist. There is a difference between the wizardly brand and the others. Science likes to test, to bring it to the world, so it can be named and weighed down with the gravity of words then to concur with others. Wizardly science of the wandless magic variety type is more interesting and entirely possible given that matter and energy already possess almost magical properties, and the crossing of a threshold qualifies, just. The complete compendium of wizardly genius obviously involves far more than a foot in the door. Entirely unlocking mysteries for the illumination of oneself might appear ignoble but that’s how wizards are, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge. They don’t want to share knowledge, are not happy with mere credibility, if they share they always keep something back, some secrets for themselves. Unlike dour scientists they like action, adventure and mystery, to bring on the battles with the elements and make the sparks fly. Spectacle, theater, pizzazz are all part and parcel when you have the whole package which Bryn was not, not yet. Of course, it’s for their own reward, not for meager hog wallow.
Way back, when he first went scientific the world that had appreciated and understood him went quiet, most people around him simply showed no interest in his science in the beginning. There was a gap, a distance between their understanding and the complex and boring explanations he gave about it. The final straw came at a party, in conversation with an old skate boarding pal called Endrick, Rick for short. Bryn who had now earned his Professorship enthused about his love of plasma, quarks and gluons.
“What’s it smell like up there bro” said his friend.
Bryn smiled, it was that old nut, he was tall so quite used to that one.
“You are so up it man, so up your own arse, is that gluon you’re intestine?” Rick laughed bitingly. He was quite plain speaking.
Bryn put his drink down, tried to ignore the impulse to punch his friend one for the offence.
Invitations dried up. This bothered him so much he had to learn how to turn it around. He studied communications, injected with a bit of charisma the subject was more palatable, cool even in non scientific language. He transformed it into something softer, engaging and magical. Invitations rolled in. He was then discovered by a TV company as the new face of science. Contracts for the education and entertainment of science mugs followed - his programme hoovered up the market place for geek credibility, he had cracked it. What had started as a band aid for his ego became a big positive. His professing became much loved, he did a global circuit while doing his day job on the side. Celebrity status followed, it felt like a humongous pain in the arse to him, it always happened whatever he did, he couldn’t go wrong. With recognition came loss of privacy, but it filled the bank and got them everything they wanted, except what they, he and Indira most wanted. Bryn (or Brain affectionately) had been sloppy this time and had now left his beautiful cerebellum plastered over the lab just for the matter of some missing photon waves and a few dodgy calculations. A mistake that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t other things on his mind, hadn’t had his earplugs in, and if he had closed the door.
He had inadvertently doubled the power and the resulting collision had ripped matter. Matter, energy and momentum impelled neutron scattering which stretched time on earth, time expanded. His last words on this earth were “Boll” and simultaneously “llocks” as he interfaced with another.
In one of those realities he had now removed his earplugs and was sat staring into a cup of coffee. (His mother had always told him to close the door). That reality was parallel one.
Bryn went to the washroom.
“F*!$ no” said Bryn.
The words slipped out as he passed a mirror. His mind told him he was looking at one thing, how he used to look, but his eyes deceived him. Stepping back to catch another look, no, yep, it was him. For a fleeting moment he thought he had brown hair, chiseled features, the face of a real looser. To his immense relief pointy ears and a crown of thick silver hair covered his head, this accented in relief by black stripes framed an impish face. All he needed was a shave, couldn’t think why he’d come out without one. Skillful maneuvers with a blade put paid to that. The image in the mirror again shifted, making him blink, then reverted. Now Bryn understood this perceptual confusion. Perception alternated, first the subjective, him, Brian, then the subconscious, his past self, Bryn. This experience was comparable to psychic remote viewing, Bryn looking through Brian’s eyes. Brian looking through Bryn’s, Bryn felt like this was his body. Nothing bizzare, just think personality injection.
“Man, your’e the man” Brian complemented himself.
Hanging on a chain an id tag read ‘Prof. Brian Alva - Lucern’ Bryn took this with silent acceptance. As a scientist he couldn’t help experimenting, holding the tag to the mirror he viewed the reflection, the latent looking glass world confirmed to him he was in his hosts neural network. He also heard Brian’s comment.
“B@!*&d” Bryn replied.
Brian gave no reply - he couldn’t hear him. While Bryn could both hear and perceive Brian, Brian was blissfully unaware of Bryn.
In his first incarnation Bryn studied Photon wave function collapse. A consideration far removed from most of us, except he was a genius unlike most. He’d been playing around with this magic for the last decade. As a youth celebrity came early but skateboard stars have a short shelf life. Work ended when he broke his leg in three places which left him walking with a stick though he was lithe enough. At Uni he excelled, the limelight would have followed whatever he did. In parallel universes theory it say’s nothing is impossible. On the path of his normal reality everything stacked, tall, brown hair, slight build, facial features that would please any biologist. Apparently you can win on an infinite number of tickets in an infinite number of universes. That’s no ordinary brain that had trickled down the radiation door, it was a tin-assed brain.
Bryn returned to the seat, pulled up the coat collar involuntarily, trying to find comfort in its familiar feel, the dampness lingered. Brian adjusted it back clumsily reaching far wide and grappling, it was only with Bryn’s help that he managed.
An altered plane of performance had them moving spasmodically, this was going to be hard work Bryn concluded. It all felt scarily surreal, of all the brains in all the millions of parallels of all the multiverses he’d had to land in this one. What Bryn knew would blow the foundations of the world as we know it, that’s if he could tell them, this wasn’t the world as we know it. On earth Bryn was dead. He couldn’t be both dead and alive in two different states on the one single path of his usual other self, there was no way back, that was the biggest metaphysical spanner in the universe, it had him by the nuts.
He looked up from his cup to find someone apparently waiting for him.
“Brian, you ready then?”
Facing him was a man with a snowy white face, white and blue point hair in a man bun, Bryn knew instinctively this was a friend - he wasn’t alone after all. Searching for a name though challenged him, he paused. Was it Peter? The man waited on the word to spill, craning his neck and titling his head sideways. It didn’t come. Brynian filled the void.
“Petinky” Brynian said.
“It’s me, Pinky!” the man said wondering what planet Brian was on.
“Pinky” said Brian, of course. Pinky was the head physicist who ran the show at Lucern, his manager.
Bryn was relieved to get that over with, however once the name was given, it was like Bryn had always known him. Pinky slapped him on the back as they headed off.
“You look rough mate” said Pinky.
“Dog rough” said Brian.
“I know” said Bryn tapping his stick as he walked with an erratic gait “So would you if you had the day I’ve had”.
Pinky laughed. “Yeah, looks like it got you mate”.
“It did” said Bryn.
Pinky, a fellow physicist, wasn’t named Pinky out of irony, he literally had the largest pink eyes you might ever encounter on a man. Long colour pointed hair of white with prussian blue gave him gravitas. Partially swept into a chignon bun the rest straight and free cast around a white full high cheek boned face. He had a sort of majestic demeanor, swagger. As work colleagues at Lucern, their day job, they enjoyed smashing up matter together and got on pretty well it has to be said. They gelled over nerdistic data and long walks across the site of the collider, which science had optimistically named Lucern, a reference to how it would throw light on the universe. The brightest minds in the world and Brian worked there attempting to recreate the process of creation.
For a scientist it was a beautiful package, it had recently undergone an upgrade too, was now 1,000 times its original capacity, surely they could now create creation. More to the point however this was now officially the weekend. For Brian and Pinky the weekend was usually supervened by drinking large amounts, cider Brian’s drug of first choice and champagne for Pinks. Drinking to a point at which sensation became too faint to experience was standard.
“The Pits ok?” Pinky asked rhetorically.
“The Arm Pits” replied Brynian, an homogenisation of The Miners Arms, Bryn and Peter’s local.
The Pits looked better than its pet name implied. In actuality a club called The Lantern, a movie house for artsy types with a bar. It was not rough at all. The Oriel Room which housed the optics and pumps was a contemporary watering hole. Bare brick walls with floor spots and concealed lighting gave an almost cinematic atmosphere, making customers moves studies in shadow and depth. It was chic, an admix of academics and colourful characters rubbed shoulders here, making many strange bed fellows. Pinky would appear remarkable to us yet this was normal for here, it made others in other parallels appear pretty dull and drab by comparison. Luckily comparison was not possible with these genetically challenged people. We’re not naturally given to brilliant hues in our reality, we’re simply plain. Their genetics were different, people displayed animal markings along with some bang tidy chromatin colour changing abilities. Cells could do adaptive things in white, violets and blues, so a contrast to us but sadly definitely related.
As unlikely as you might find it, given an infinite number of probabilities on a humungously large scale, this reality is not only what the multiverse created it was also possibly inevitable it would create it. There was presently many Brians, Bryn’s and Brains in the 10, 11, 24 or many other million configurations of parallels mulling over the problem right now. Given an infinite number of them and an infinite number of chances, the laws of physics and an even chance, Brynian would probably now go and get shit faced. Although it’s right to concede that in a few he may have transcended his inability to listen to his mother, shut the door and now carried on home.
Meanwhile somewhere in the multiverse ripples were felt as a direct result of Bryn’s experiment, matter had been torn, the passage of time itself had been retarded, its contours ripped, and the ceiling of improbability had shifted. Bryn had upset the balance of the multiverse which had the potential to destruct all realities, hypothetically...... there was going to be tears, a sonnet or at least a few dead monkey’s. Brynian looked at his bare wedding finger, pulled a face, he was obviously not married here and never had been, he felt a knot in his stomach, an existential twist of the gut.
The pair perched on tall bar stools and hugged the bar as per usual. It’s where most of their bonding happened, where it occasionally fell apart and where they held their biggest debates once cider had dissolved much brain matter. It’s no paradox that given profoundly complex mathematical dilemmas, bosons and theories that intense conversations volleyed backwards and forwards, however, as for solving problems of common sense they were practically very poor at that. They consistently failed miserably at designating a driver, booking tables and usually forgot and dipped into the bar nuts again. His mother had warned him he’d catch worms, did he listen? To be fair these lofty thinkers dealt with complicated stuff that has real obstacles to reasoning out consistent, meaningful or realistic answers, well, without manipulating a square peg into a round hole. How to tie quantum physics with the laws of general relativity is harder than tying one’s shoe laces. All of the provocative questions of the world and everything without also spewing up by the end of the evening would never be satisfactory. It was messy, traditional and perhaps as totally necessary to the process as falling off your bar stall or staggering to a taxi rank.
Suddenly an unimaginably loud noise cut through the scene, bursting forth between them like a bull crack whip, the destructive force knocking Pinky backwards. The electrical crack rang out, violating the air with white blue forks, people screamed and ran while bar nuts quick roasted into hot missiles and popped thereabouts. Pinky was struck first by a flaming peanut between the eyes, Brynian took a hit in mid conversation which struck his silver top cane and travelled through his arm. A magical sharp smell of ions hung in the air while he lay prone like a smoldering chicken on the hard floor.