Inspired by James Mascia’s Other Worlds.
Your character or group of characters has walked through a dimensional rift and finds himself/herself in a parallel universe where almost everything is the same except for several minor details. However, these details have a huge impact on the way the world has formed.
“Okay team, you ready to go through? This is only the second time the rift has been opened. We tracked Mushroom the monkey for a week before his transmitter failed so we know the rift itself won’t kill you. What is on the other side, well, we got a hand full of images sent back before the signal died. And, the good news is the place is so much like here, except it appears the air and water quality are much better. This might be the future. You have been chosen to assess the risks and possibilities.
“The goal will be to explore, but make it back here in exactly a week’s time, at 0500 hours. That is when it will be open again, so it is imperative that you make it back to the rendezvous on time. Else, you will have to stay until we send another team. If one of you is compromised, make sure the equipment makes it back with somebody to the point so we get the data.
“We can plan a rescue mission if need be, but we need that information.” The old man took a moment to drink from a glass of water, handing the glass to an assistant who quietly walked away with it. “Any questions?” The five of them looked at the blue and purple swirling mass a few feet away, scientists and robots zoomed about making adjustments.
This was it, another universe so like their own. The future lay in the hope that this may be the answer to their prayers. “One question, sir.” Lilly raised her voice looking directly at the old man, the leader of this mission. A mission that few knew about, but could affect millions. “Yes, Ms. Neil?” He glanced at his watch, a timer for the rift set and ticking away.
“Do we know what happened to Mushroom?”
“No, he may have disconnected his collar walking around, we have no recordings or information of violence. It just stopped sending, so it is hard to say. If you happen to find Mushroom, it would be useful to bring his gear back so we can find out what happened. If not, your information should of course be enough. I will say again, this only works if someone makes it back. So, no unnecessary risks.”
Lilly and the rest of the team nodded, facing the rift before them. This was their duty to their country. It was an honor as well. Gershwin and Trombone were military and trained for survival, whereas Lilly and Severn were more scientific minded intellectuals. Nigel was sort of a cross between the two, a former military NASA astronaut. He would lead the mission as he understood both parts of it.
Should something befall Nigel, Lilly was supposed to take charge, although she hoped she wouldn’t have to. Gershwin and Trombone had largely been silent and uncommunicative with her. She couldn’t help but wonder if they had special orders that were kept from the rest. Again, she hoped she wouldn’t find out.
“Good luck ladies, and gentlemen, take your packs, there should be enough rations to survive a week. If you befriend any locals, even if they seem just like us, be aware that they aren’t. We don’t know their motivations or even if they will react kindly to our arrival.”
They each picked up a heavy hiking style backpack with rations water, and an emergency kit. They were a well oiled machine. They had been preparing for months for this moment. They lined up and slowly walked up to the portal and one by one passed through it.
Lilly felt a cold sensation and a pin prickling feeling all over and before she could think much more about it she was on the other side with the rest of the team. They backed away from the portal as it flickered and finally disappeared. They were alone.
It was a rocky area with shrubs. Reminiscent of Arizona, she thought. “I used to go running and hiking in Arizona.” She said aloud to no one in particular. The sky was a vivid blue with fluffy white clouds. She breathed in deeply. Fresh clean air. She let it out feeling the sensation in her lungs.
“Let’s set up camp, set our receiver here. We cannot afford to lose the rendezvous point. After we have a perimeter set up, we can explore a little in teams. Meet back here in ten. Everyone has a walkie on them right? We have to keep in touch, any sign of Mushroom let me know. So, first set up, then we explore a little, don’t go too far out.” Nigel looked at each one of them. Lilly set her pack down, started to get the tent out. She saw the others do the same. Severn started to wander off.
“Severn? Where you going? Nigel wants us to set up first?”
“I am not going far, I thought I heard something.”
“I think we are supposed to go in pairs or not alone.”
“You see where I’m heading right? I am not going far, I promise.”
Lilly watched Severn go over the hill and walk down with rocks sliding about and he disappeared from view.
“Hey, Lilly, you need a hand setting up?”
“No, I’m okay, I just watched Severn head down there.”
“Yeah, he claimed he heard something.”
Nigel frowned a little. “Hey, Gershwin, can you go after Severn? Just make sure he doesn’t get himself in trouble, he went that direction.” Gershwin nods, shouldering a rifle, and his pack setting off carefully in the direction Severn went.
“Don’t worry, Lilly. Gershwin is a great tracker, and I am sure they both will be fine. In the meantime, we gotta get the fire going, and all the tents up, plus our receiver and beacon so we can transmit. This looks like a pretty empty area, which is good, we won’t have to explain any of this to the natives. ”
Lilly smiled and tried to sound unconcerned. But, something about the way Severn acted seemed off. She hadn’t heard anything. Yet, he heard something. They were just told not to go alone and to keep in touch. “Nigel.”
Nigel turned around and looked at her and saw where she was pointing. Severn’s pack lay on the ground, his walkie peeking out of it. “Why would he not take water? Why leave everything? Can you help me get some kindling, not much here, but some brush, maybe we can use that. Try not to worry.”
“He didn’t seem right, he didn’t seem like himself. Something seemed off.”
“You think going through the rift made him forgetful?” Nigel laughed as he went about breaking pieces off the sagebrush with a snap. Trombone was setting up a perimeter fence, a serious frown on his face. “How much do you know about Trombone and Gershwin?”
“I know those aren’t there real names. I know they are military of some sort, and we need some people who know how to protect us. I trust them. They are all about the mission. And it succeeding.”
“What if their mission isn’t the same as ours?”
Nigel shook his head. “Are you sure the rift didn’t make you paranoid? We have only been here, maybe 30 minutes tops, and all ready you are worrying. I know as much as you do. It is just information gathering.”
Lilly nodded again, keeping him close. “Shouldn’t Severn have been back by now?”
“You know how he can be, if he is on the trail of something he can lose track of time. That is why it is so important to take your walkie. The only cell tower we got here is our receiver and it fires information into the portal at intervals where they open it briefly. So, we have to do it the old fashioned way, with radio frequencies, which is why I am mad at him for not taking his.”
Night was beginning to fall all ready, the air began to take on a chill air. Trombone and Nigel worked on the fire, while Lilly finished setting up the receiver. There was still no sign of Severn or Gershwin. The receiver had a green light come on as the generator kicked into life, generating a heater. She held her hands to it. “Who knew the desert could be so cold.”
“Do you want the actual answer to that, because you should know how that works, you know, once the sun sets.” She smiled at Nigel. He was the only likable one on the team since Severn had left.
She found herself increasingly nervous. The fire crackled and spit sparks. It was a safe distance from the machinery. It was mostly to keep any animals away. The heat from the generator plus the electricity it provided for their tools and materials and machines would ensure they stayed near. The fire also helped light up the edges of their perimeter, where Trombone was on duty pacing it with his rifle at the ready, watching and waiting.
“I hope he doesn’t accidentally shoot the others.”
“Gershwin and him have a signal, I am sure they won’t shoot each other.”
“What about Severn?”
“Do you always worry about him so?”
“Nigel. Severn is my brother. Half brother, actually. or Step brother. My father remarried, so, yeah, I have been worrying about him since he was like nine. I haven’t ever really stopped. He has always been a dare devil. But, he is normally more cautious. He isn’t stupid, nor is he usually careless.”
“You need to stop, Lilly. You are worrying way too much. As far as we know, there is nothing to be afraid of here. We have seen no evidence of any settlements. Nor even any animal sightings. Have you checked the soil readings yet? We know the air is pretty good, and we haven’t found any water yet, but there must be some around here, because Mushroom found some.”
“We also do not know what happened to Mushroom.”
Suddenly she heard a loud squeal, it sounded like a whistle or an animal call. “What was that?” Nigel laid a hand on her arm briefly, putting a finger to his lips gesturing for silence.
She saw him glance toward the fire, seeing Trombone’s silhouette, rifle out. He had stopped pacing, was listening as well. Suddenly an arrow whizzed by their heads. “Get behind the apparatus, hurry.” Nigel picked up the arrow and got to the ground, pulling Lilly along, and pushing her down into the reddish dirt. He handed her the arrow. “What do you make of that?”
“It’s. It’s an Indian arrowhead. Like the kind that was used in the nineteenth century against Custer.”
“Quiet. You got any kind of weapon on you?” Lilly flashes a small knife. Nigel looks at it, and kind of frowns. He slowly gets a small gun out, cocks it and makes sure it is loaded. They hear gunfire near the fire. “Trombone.”
Suddenly they hear horses. The hoof beats were loud and the warriors were making loud noises as well and more arrows and additional gunfire erupted around them. Lilly got nearer to Nigel, her hand shaking gripping her knife. “We have to get them to open the portal now. Have to enter the emergency code.”
“Nigel, if you get up now, you will be killed.”
“Can you fire a gun? You can cover for me.”
“They have guns too, there’s more than just Trombone’s shots going off.”
“This explains why the air and the water are in such good shape. The British settlers, the Europeans in this place did not make it. They must have died off from diseases instead of the native populace. Or some other situation. These people continued to live as they always had, except with guns and horses of course. So, there had been an invasion, but it was unsuccessful here. But they must remember, because of this hostility. They know what invaders are now, they aren’t naive or trusting. Nor are they taking any chances.”
“I don’t want to die like this.” Lilly looked up at Nigel in fear, he handed her his gun. “Then don’t. Cover for me, let me get us out of here.”
“But my brother?”
“Lilly, we have to get out of here now. We will come back, I promise.”
“He’s dead isn’t he?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
They heard Trombone’s gun click, saw his silhouette go down to hatchets and shrieking. “It’s now or never.” Nigel jumped up and ran to the console. Lilly slowly got up pointing the gun at the natives who were surrounding the fence and knocking it down in places. She saw one warrior place a pike near the fire. He held up Trombone’s head and placed it on it, loudly. Lilly felt her stomach start to grumble uneasily, choking down her vomit tasting the acid bitter taste.
“Almost done, Lilly. They don’t seem to be paying us any mind anymore.”
“Maybe it is because we aren’t shooting at them.”
“Well, I think they were distracted with Trombone, as soon as they realize we are here, I am not sure they will bother talking to us.”
Lilly watched a couple warriors setting fire to the tents. She grabbed up her satchel with her notes in it. “We didn’t have time to get many samples.”
“We can’t worry about that now. It’s okay.”
The rift flared open, at the same time an arrow thudded loudly nearby. Lilly ran for it firing an occasional shot. “Nigel, come on, it’s open!”
He was slumped on the panel, an arrow in his back.”Go, go ahead. Run.” Lilly stopped and turned back toward Nigel, firing shots in the direction of the natives until the gun went click. She dropped her satchel, grabbed him by the arm and with her adrenaline running in her veins pulsing and throbbing in her ears enabling her to find strength and speed unknown to her, not thinking merely doing, her legs poetry in motion she carried him like an oversized sack of potatoes. Arrows and bullets whizzing here and there, fire consuming the tents, the receiver began to spark wildly and the rift started to flicker and on she ran.
“Only a little farther, you should just drop me and go. The mission.It is more important.”
She didn’t reply because she couldn’t spare the breath or think of the words. She sprinted carrying the man she knew in this moment she would love until she died. They both crashed into the rift into a pile on the other side, the metal floor crashing into their bruised bodies. Soldiers had guns pointing at the portal as it was shut down an arrow whizzed into the room. Lilly felt her brain go fuzzy, and things started to go blurry and dim for her.
“Get these two some medical attention, now.” The old man bellowed. He picked up the arrow looking at it carefully. “So much like our world, but more pristine. Unplundered, unpolluted. Underpopulated. No sign of Mushroom, I take it?”
“Sir, both of these members of the team are unconscious. We are still receiving a signal from the other side, further away from the campsite. Are we to assemble a rescue team?”
“Wait until we have these two debriefed. They might give us more information on possible survivors or what exactly happened. Mushroom could still be out there since he isn’t a human, they might not have killed him. I still think his collar was removed or damaged. The signal is coming from Gershwin I suppose?”
“Yes. He was following the other scientist, I think that scientist was attempting to track Mushroom, actually.”
“Interesting. Well, we will try to get these two fixed up and see what they know, and go from there. This just got interesting, gentlemen.” The old man handed the arrow to his assistant who again took it quietly and walked away with it much like the water glass earlier.