Dana took Kari's hand and got to her feet, none too steadily. She quickly realized that the force of gravity was too low, but she estimated that it was closer to Earth normal than to the one sixth gee of the Moon. Kari turned and stepped off of the platform, gracefully falling four feet to the floor, her long dark hair sailing behind like a tail.
Dozens of thoughts continued to rise in Dana's mind, including thoughts of alien abduction and desire for clothing. Dana was vaguely comforted that Kari was also naked and seemed quite in control, without being at all threatening. Kari turned and looked up towards Dana. Obviously impatient, Kari gave a brief wave of her hand and spoke more of a language that Dana did not recognize. Dana shuffled her feet over the metal surface of the platform and descended the set of steps, keeping one of her hands on the hand rail.
Kari turned and led the way across the room past jumbles of fascinating machinery, pipes and bundles of colored wires. Several times Dana had the sensation that someone was moving around, off in the distance, but her quick glances revealed no others in the large room besides Kari. They passed through the doorway into an ugly, utilitarian hallway. Although the air was warm, the floor felt distinctly cool against Dana's feet, as did her wet hair against her back. Kari began to move even faster along the open length of the hallway and Dana had to concentrate on establishing a productive gait in the low gravity.
The hallway ended at a monorail where Kari stepped down into a waiting car and sat on a bench along the far side of the car. Dana looked up and down the rail but was disoriented by the strange pattern of lights stretching of in both directions down the tunnel. Dana sat down opposite from Kari and began to notice the transparent dome of the car's windshield. The car accelerated rapidly down the track and the bench seemed to grow tentacles that clung to her torso and held her in place.
Dana saw that Kari was relaxing back into the cushion of the bench as it grew extensions to support her back. Dana tried to do the same, but she quickly grew alarmed at the dizzying rate of the car's movement through the tunnel. The car's acceleration stopped and then reversed. Dana shifted around to face the direction they had come and found that view less inducing of vertigo.
Dana realized that she was being watched by Kari and the two girls locked eyes. Something in Kari's eyes was in conflict with her otherwise youthful appearance. Slowly Dana realized that Kari had fine wrinkles around her eyes and mouth and her eyes did not have the pure clarity of a healthy adolescent. Dana also sensed that there was something odd about the size or shape of Kari's head but it was hard to tell exactly what was under her somewhat unruly mop of hair.
Suddenly the tunnel ended and the car popped out into the open. At first Dana was captivated by the dark, star-filled sky then she became aware of being in the midst of a strange city that seemed to glow with a hundred subtle fluorescent shades. Dana could not put the scale of glowing city into perspective until the car stopped and she stepped out onto a grass-covered slope next to Kari's house. Dana now realized that they were in more of a village than a city and as her mental model adapted she realized that they were in a cavern, not on the surface of a world.
The exterior of the house looked like a cross between a coral reef and child's sand castle and glowed with the light of thousands of nearly random patches of pastel colors. There was a subtle pattern in the colors that seemed like some kind of camouflage, or what might pass for camouflage in a Dr. Seuss storybook setting. As they approached the front to the house, the door slid open and a bipedal robot stepped out to greet Kari. Kari and the robot embraced then turned back to look at Dana. Still standing with an arm around each other's back, Kari and the robot discussed Dana.
Dana quickly decided that the robot had been purposefully designed to not look exactly like a human. Most obviously, the robot had stylized hermaphroditic features, but there were also subtle blendings of features from other species, including pointed, cat-like ears. The machine's movements were inhuman; it appeared that it could bend its body and limbs at any point. When it spoke it emitted a nearly comical mechanical rasping that imitated human speech without any apparent motion of its mouth.
The robot then performed a kind of ritual, quickly advancing close to Dana, dropping its head in a formalized bow and holding out a hand. Dana was both repulsed and enchanted by a double row of blinking lights that were now visible on the bald dome of its head and the hairless, mannequin-like hand. Slowly, Dana took hold of hand and felt it grow around her own hand, just as the bench seat in the monorail car had grown around her body. Glancing down, she saw continuing small adjustments in the shape of the robots' hand as it reacted to her own movements. The robot spoke a short passage and then lifted its head. Now at close range, Dana could assess the inhuman qualities of its rectangular, monochrome eyes. At a distance, Dana could imagine that the eyes were sunglasses, but up close it was clear that they were not detachable covers. The machine pointed at Dana and said, "Dana," then gestured at itself and said, "Toleha." The robot then turned and went into the house. Kari gestured towards the door and Dana followed the machine through the doorway.
Dana quickly adapted to routine of Kari's home, although it was hard to really think much in terms of routine when every day brought new surprises and discovery. Dana learned that Toleha was Kari's companion robot. Dana was given her own companion, a device that called itself "Ayer". Dana and Ayer spent their days learning each others language and exploring the village. Dana learned that Kari was the only human living in the village, but that the village was part of an asteroid. There was one other human, "Ysselen Timbles", who lived on the far side of the asteroid where there was another laboratory that participated with Kari's lab in the teleportation experiments.
The hardest thing for Dana to adapt to was lack of privacy. The idea of a private room seemed totally unknown to Kari. Once or twice a day Kari and Toleha would have what Dana could only label as an "intimate session", apparently with no thought to where or when, and most often on the grassy front yard when Kari returned from the laboratory. Ayer was always with Dana unless she ordered the robot to stay away. Starting the day of her arrival in the asteroid, there were daily visits by another robot, "Ysselen Bwhuc", who took biological samples from both Dana and Kari. As Dana's ability to communicate with Ayer grew, she came to understand that Ysselen Bwhuc was watching for possible pathogenic microbial transfer between Kari and Dana. It became clear to Dana that Kari's only interest in her was in trying to determine where Dana had come from. Dana learned that "Ysselen" was the equivalent of "Doctor" and that Kari was "Ysselen Kari Woz", professionally a research physicist. Dana felt as if she were little more than a new phase of Kari's teleportation research.
Finally Dana realized that she could move to one of the other houses in the village. Nothing was very far away. Of course, Ayer continued as a constant companion. The visits by Ysselen Bwhuc continued and as Dana's language abilities improved, Kari and Dana spent more time talking. Finally on evening, just as the dome of the village chamber was shifting from its daylight simulation into night, both Kari and Ysselen Timbles arrived at the door of Dana's house.
By this point, Ayer had acquired an amazingly good ability to speak and understand English. Dana had a basic understanding of one of the languages that was common on Archeworld. Dana had learned that while Archeworld was amazingly similar to Earth in terms of geography and even biology, cultural artifacts such as languages were quite different. Ayer had introduced Dana to a multiverse theory that suggested the possibility that Earth and Archeworld may have been one and the same until there was a bifurcation into two daughter universes, possibly as recently as 20 or 30 thousand years ago.
Dana, Ayer, Kari and Dr. Timbles sat down and the three humans made themselves comfortable. Another household robot brought bottle of liquid nutrient solutions that passed as both meals and refreshment. Dr. Timbles had the appearance of a middle-age man, but Dana knew he was nearly 150 years old. The technology of Archeworld was more advanced than that of Earth. Dana had learned that Kari was 58 years old, but as was common practice, she was living the first part of her professional life with her physiological development arrested in adolescence. Dr. Timbles was on the back side of his career as a physicist, having raised children at mid-life then entered into a final age-delaying phase that might last another century. Dr. Timbles said, "Ayer has told me all about your world "Earth", no doubt a parallel of our home world. Please tell me in detail what happened just before you came to this universe. Did you notice anything strange?"
Dana had often tried to remember something unusual about the moments before she moved between universes. She had been over this dozens of times with both Ayer and Kari, but she went through it all one more time for Dr. Timbles. Dana explained that she had been wrapped in her bath towel, just about to reach for her hair dryer and then there was a flash of light. She lost her balance and fell.
Dr. Timbles turned to Kari, "Exactly what matter was teleported into your chamber?"
Kari ran down the list that they were all well aware of: Dana, the bath towel, a slice from the edge of a wooden and plastic cabinet, on oval-shaped piece of carpet and the chunk of floor that Dana had been standing on and the air that had been around Dana. "Judging by Earth-normal air pressure and the somewhat lower pressure we maintain here, the total volume transported was about three quarters of the volume of the teleportation chamber."
Dr. Timbles asked, "There was no structural damage to the chamber?"
Once again, Kari reviewed the damage. Fearing she was trapped, Dana had tried pounding on the inside of the chamber and had shattered some of the detectors that formed the inner lining. Other than that, the chamber showed no signs of damage or malfunction. In the following weeks the chamber had been returned to operation and was functioning normally.
Dr. Timbles muttered, "Too many coincidences." He turned back to Dana, "Did you strike your head? Did you lose consciousness?"
Dana thought not. "I collapsed in the chamber, and it was very disorienting to be suddenly in the dark and in a strange place, but I was not hurt. At first I thought there had been an earthquake or an explosion. I feared that I had been blinded and as the temperature rose I worried that there was a fire, but I smelled no smoke. I heard no sounds. It got very hot, and by the time the hatch opened I thought I would be roasted alive, but I did not lose consciousness and I was able to crawl out of the chamber."
Dr. Timbles stood up then began to pace across the room. "There is no theoretically plausible way to explain this as a chance event. But if this is a trick of the Chimys, what can the possibly be thinking?"
Dana was surprised to hear Dr. Timbles mention the Chimys. Dana had discussed the Chimys with both Ayer and Kari and had the impression that the Chimys were like Leprechauns. The legendary Chimys were beings who could travel between universes, moving people and other objects between universes much in the way an artist might paint a picture with a pallet of colors.
An awkward quite settled in the room and Dana decided this was her chance to ask some questions. "Ayer has started teaching me physics, but I still do not understand where the boundary is between speculation and what has been confirmed. For example, in the teleportation experiments, is there a viable theory for how it might work?"
Dr. Timbles grumbled, "Do you think the vast investment in this asteroid laboratory would have been made without a sound theoretical basis?"
Dana shrugged. "I'm not challenging the validity of your experiments." She asked Ayer, "Can you bring up that dimensional structure diagram we were looking at yesterday?" Ayer, like all of the other robots could always be used like a computer terminal. In a moment Ayer provided a flexible display screen showing the structure. "Now, as I understand this, each vertex in the diagram represents a dimension in spacetime. The junctional point here in the center represents time. The three vertices of this shaded triangle represent the tree extended spatial dimensions. The highlighted vertices can be thought of as some of the collapsed spatial dimensions. Normally, this dimensional structure is stable, but under some conditions the structure of spacetime can become unstable, allowing unusual physics.
Kari completed the line of the argument, "Unusual physics such as the movement of matter between two distant points in space."
Dana asked, "But how would that be possible?"
Dr. Timbles replied, "Theoretically, the kind of rupture shown in this diagram could allow matter to use a triplet of collapsed dimensions as a conduit for transport to another location in extended spacetime. The technical problem is that there is no known way to create such a rupture."
Kari had to disagree. "There are models that explain neutrino oscillations as a consequence of spontaneous ruptures in spacetime."
Dr. Timbles snorted, "Bah!. There are far simpler explanations of neutrino oscillations."
Kari replied quietly, "The simple explanation is not always correct."
Dana was not interested in the disputes of particle physicists. She tried to keep the conversation focused on the problem of accounting for her own travel. "Is it possible that this kind of rupture in the structure of space time could allow connections to form between nearby universes?"
Kari asked, "What do you mean by 'nearby universes'?" If there really is a multiverse, then there must be a vast array of universes with many closer to this one than yours."
Dr. Timbles asked, "What is the best estimate of the point of divergence?"
Ayer replied, "With 97 percent of the sequencing complete, the best estimate is that the 'Earth' universe has been isolated from our universe for 28,500 years." Many of the buildings in the village were concerned with biology and keeping a supply of food available and the air composition balanced. In addition to facilities for keeping the asteroid's artificial ecology in balance, there was a robot-staffed biomedical lab that had undertaken the task of completely sequencing Dana's DNA and that of all the microbes that had come with her from Earth.
If Dana's transfer from the parallel universe of Earth has been a chance event, how had it so cleanly extracted just the perfectly sized part of her universe so as to contain a living person? And why Dana's universe been connected to this universe when there had to be so many "closer" universes? But were there closer universes? Kari raised the issue of multiverse inertia. "In some models, divergent universes are not stable and they tend to merge. Depending on how you fudge the variables, you can get mean times of divergence from microseconds to millions of years."
Dr. Timbles stopped his pacing and flopped down in a chair. "Fantasy! Nothing but fantasy."
Dana decided it would be impossible to irritate Dr. Timbles to a greater degree, so she might as well not stop. "Ayer showed me one theory in which there can be at most three parallel universes. What if we now know them all: Earth's universe, this universe, and the universe of 'Uberworld'?"
Dr. Timbles threw his hands into the air above his head. "Its nothing but numerology for people who cannot count past three."
Kari also had never been sympathetic to such "numerology", but she wanted to give Dana a chance to say what was on her mind. "So where are you going with this? What if these are the only three universes?"
Dana replied, "Well, then that solves one of the big mysteries; why my universe was selected. To explain the rest of the mystery, we can assume that there is some agent, and we might as well call it 'Chimys', and we have to ask why that agent would have selected me to bring over to this universe."
Kari played along, "And why you were deposited here in the teleportation chamber."
Dana nodded. "Right. Good question. I've never understood this place. I have to assume there is some danger from the experiments that are done here, that it was felt there is a need to isolate this work and risk as few people as possible here."
Dr. Timbles and Kari seemed lost in thought so Ayer joined into the conversation. "There are many wild stories about the 'Uberworld invasion'. One story is that Uberworld had developed teleportation technology and that it is what allowed the invasion to happen. But in that story, the invasion started with a catastrophic accident. Some suggest that Uberworld has, in fact, been made uninhabitable by the accident and the survivors had no choice but to swarm through a portal to Archeworld."
Dana asked, "So the fear is that the experiments being conducted here might fracture spacetime and....what? Destroy this entire asteroid?"
"Or make another inter-universe invasion possible." Dr. Timbles stood up again and gestured towards Dana, "But all we got was you." He turned to Kari, "And we still have to figure out what we are going to do when the Melsha get here."
All Dana knew about the 'Melsha' was that they were a super secret police force for the invaders from Uberworld. So secret that many people did not believe they existed. Dana asked, "The Melsha are coming here?"
Kari replied, "Our radar had detected an inbound ship, but they have not communicated with us. The ship is not sending out the normal navigational beacon signals of freighters. I have to guess we are going to be visited by Melsha agents. All of our data are automatically transmitted to Archeworld, and the timing is right if this ship left there shortly after you dropped in."
Dr. Timbles excused himself and went off to sleep, exhausted from the long tube trip from the far side of the asteroid and the tiresome nature of the translations and counter translations that had been required during their discussions.
Kari followed Dr. Timbles to the door of Dana's house then let the door close behind Dr. Timbles and she turned back to Dana. "If you had a choice would you rather stay here or go to Archeworld?"
Dana did not like the idea of dealing with Melsha agents, particularly if they were the secret police of a fascist central government that originated as inter-universe invaders who had essentially enslaved the entire population of Archeworld. "Will I have a choice?"
"Of course not." Kari opened the door to depart, but then added mischievously, "Sleep well."