Malcolm Langley of the Sara Dimension

by Mark Andrew Wilson

Update: Holy smokes! I was actually one of the over 2,000 people who wrote a novel from word one to word 50,000 in November 2002. As a matter of fact, I wrote half of this novel during the last week. Many thanks go out to the other Portland NaNoWriMo folks for getting me out of the house enough that I didn't go insane with cabin fever while writing.

And it's still not done. I'm actually very proud of this crappy little novel I threw together at the last minute. I'm going to be adding some scenes and doing a little editing during December. I'm also working on putting it all together in a PDF file using Pagemaker. I might even print out and bind a copy for myself just so I can have that warm, fuzzy final product feeling.

Are you actually reading this? Tell me what you think: Also, feel free to visit my home page.

Another update: I've decided not to touch the plot anymore and save some of the loose ideas and strings for another day and another story. I am still working on printing out my own PDF copy and when that's done I'll upload a PDF and printing instructions here, as well.

Latest update 09/01/2006: While I'm in here nuking the NedStat counter, I thought I'd mention that I did print up several paperback bound copies of this NaNoWriMo Novel, for shits and giggles, when I was working at the Copy Place. They look pretty sweet. Someday I'll put the PDF online. I'll expedite that process if you email me, though! Hm. Now that I've got some emotional distance from this prose, I can see a lot of things I'd like to edit. There's still a lot of fun in there, too.

Table of Contents
CHAPTER ONE: The Sara Dimension
CHAPTER TWO: Dancing in the Susan Dimension
CHAPTER THREE: Betrayal in the Sally Dimension
CHAPTER FOUR: Fear in the Samantha Dimension
CHAPTER FIVE: A Funeral in the Simone Dimension
CHAPTER SIX: The Jaime Dimension
CHAPTER SEVEN: Math in the Suzette Dimension
CHAPTER EIGHT: An Unnamed Dimension
CHAPTER NINE: The David Dimension
CHAPTER TEN: The Malcolm Dimension
CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Sandra Dimension
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: The Love Dimension
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: A Panty Raid at the Pi Delta Pi House

Dedicated to: Patricia Quanbeck.

I don't know who you are and you don't know me, but I found your book "The Unconscious," by Alasdair C. MacIntyre and copyright 1958. It was lying in the rain next to Embers on Couch and Broadway as I was walking to a National Novel Writing Month meeting at Powell's. It's got a red cover and the title is written upside-down on the spine. I saved it from the rain just in time, but you don't seem to be listed in the phone book.

CHAPTER ONE: The Sara Dimension

That was the only decision that ever mattered. I picked up the phone.

"Hello, Sara?" I said.


"This is Malcolm. I have something very important to tell you..."


"I have to say goodbye."

I remember that moment with precise precision. In fact, I could reexperience it a thousand times with a thousand minute differences. But I choose not to.

"Sara, the mind is like a quantum computer..." I read it off an index card.

"No, wait, that's not quite right," I improvised, "It's like a field programmable quantum gate array."

"Um, okay." Sara was smart. She was confused, but I'm sure she had an idea what I was talking about.

Something wet landed on my cheek. It might have been a tear. It might have been sweat. The process had begun.

"Sara, I won't be here tomorrow. I'm going away."

It was too late for the index cards. There was no time left to explain.

"I love you very much."

It ripped like velcro.

CHAPTER TWO: Dancing in the Susan Dimension

I awoke on the other side of the room. The phone was plugged into a socket that didn't exist 30 seconds ago. A computerized voice informed me that I had dialed the wrong number, so I returned the phone to its hook.

A pile of index cards lay at my feet. I picked them up and read them.

"Dear Susan: I don't have much time left to explain. You see, the mind is like a quantum computer. Actually, it's more like a field programmable gate array."

"I've trained my mind to emulate a special circuit I've designed. The circuit allows me to transfer my consciousness into other minds that contain a similar circuit."

"So far, I believe that me and my dopplegangers are the only entities in the quantum Multiverse that have such a circuit."

"You're probably confused. Please, don't worry about me. I'll be okay. Tomorrow, my body may be an empty shell. Or it might be inhabited by another version of me. I'm not too sure. I hope he can be everything I ever wanted to be for you."

"I love you very much."

The gist of the cards was similar to what I wrote. They were also in my hand writing.

Except for the phone, everything in my apartment was in its rightful place. There were three rooms: bedroom, bathroom and living room with a kitchenette. It was the perfect size for a bachelor pad. The living room was dominated by my computer table. It was still littered with wires and printouts. Catty corner from the computer table was a love seat.

The glass coffee table that I ordered from a catalog was still right beside the love seat and it was also littered with papers.

The phone had moved from the computer table to the coffee table.

I booted up my computer. "Holy crap... I've got a DSL line..." I mumbled to myself. At least now I know this was a move for the better.

I checked my email. The password had changed. On a hunch, I typed in "Nasus" and, ding, I had no new messages. The archives were deleted, but I expected this.

Come to think of it, I probably shouldn't have deleted my email archives. If you can't trust your doppleganger, who can you trust?

I exited my apartment and found myself in a totally unexpected hallway. My apartment number had changed. I was now on the third floor.

"Lucky bastard..." I mumbled to myself. Sara also lives on the third floor.

I knocked on her door, but no one answered. I expected this, since she should be at work right now.

I sat in the cafeteria for four hours. I'd tried to call, but they said Sara didn't work there. I was a little bit worried but there was no pressing reason why I couldn't wait and see.

At one o'clock, she arrived. I got in line behind her and tapped her on the should, "hey Sara," I said.

She gave me a blank stare. "Hey Malcolm, I didn't expect to see you today," she said with a slight smile. "Why did you call me `Sara'?"

"I guess I should call you Susan?" Again, I guessed. This made more sense now.

"Uh, yeah..."

At least my name hadn't changed.

"So, how's work going for you?" I asked.

"Ugh," she sighed, "my boss is driving me up the wall."


"I'm tempted to put sugar in her gas tank," she said impishly.

"Mm... But that'd be bad karma."

"Since when did you start believing in past lives?" she said.

"Well, I just had one recently."

"Is that so? How was it?" She continued to speak jokingly.

"Pretty boring actually. That's why I gave it up."

I gazed at her a moment while she was paying for her sandwich, but then I caught myself. She might have noticed.

"I'm still wary of numerology, though," I said.

"You aren't eating?" asked Susan.

Actually, I was pretty hungry.


We sat down.

"So, how's your boyfriend?"

"What boyfriend?"

Ding! Good answer.

This time I allowed myself to gaze and absorb her countenance. She took a bite of her turkey sandwich and a drink of water. Today, her velvet hair was up in makeshift bun. Her brown eyes, as always, were deep and warm like a Sun Bear's fur. Her lips were perpetually lifted, as if giving a hint of some long hidden amusement.

"Are you okay," said her lips, "you're acting awfully strange today."

"What are you doing tonight?" I asked. I rubbed my palms up my jeans. It's as if the question itself perspired on my hands.

"Uh. Nothing special," said Susan-slash-Sara, "why?"

"Do you want to go to a movie... and dinner... hey, yeah, a movie and dinner?"

"Uhm... Okay. What do you have in mind?"

Wow. This was really easy.

Susan stood up to throw her trash away. I stood up too. And then I hit the ground.

I was incredibly dizzy.

Part of my training had required me to install a small feedback controller in my inner ear. During the meditation sessions in which I developed the quantum circuitry required for astral leaping, the feedback controller would report my progress via radio waves to the computer that monitored and directed my meditation.

I was nauseous and dizzy for weeks after I bribed an underhanded surgeon to implant the device. I had to postpone my initial launch date for months because of the infection I received when the same surgeon removed it.

I stumbled to my feet. It seemed the entire cafeteria was huddled around me.

"Sara, I have to go."

I ran to the door as the dizziness subsided.

Damn it. I meant to say "Susan."

When I finally arrived at my apartment (I actually went to the fifth floor at first) I immediately booted up my computer and put it into the training program.

Damn it. My doppleganger never bothered to remove his feedback chip. Whatever happened to all for one?

Hell, for that matter, why did he go away when Susan was still single?

Ding. I had email.

"Dear doppleganger: As you've probably noticed, I didn't remove the feedback controller. Please leave it alone. I plan to return."

What the hell is wrong with that bastard?

I reluctantly ate some Mac and Cheese and took a nap. I was awakened by a knock on the door. It was Susan, except seen through blurry eyes.

Blink. She wanted to know if I was okay. "I'm okay, let's go."

We were already in my car by the time I realized we hadn't decided where to go yet.

Fifteen blocks later, Susan spoke up. "Oh wait, pull over." I pulled over. Susan initiated a conversation with a few members of a line up outside a club.

"Why don't we go to this club?" I asked.


It took me a moment to notice that everybody in the line was a woman. I was such a naive moron back then. My inner klaxon had yet to be hooked up.

Boobs. Boobs everywhere. And not a drop to drink. I had walked right into an all-ages lesbian bar.

As you probably already know, real life lesbians aren't at all like the lesbians on the Internet. I mean, there's an intersection between the Internet lesbian and real lesbian sets, but it's small.

So many media lies. In fact, it was a lesbian karaoke bar. A prime time script writer would have compared it to Lilith Fair, but I'll spare you that trite, trite piece of wisdom.

Well, there were some guys in drag there. I wasn't really paying attention. I pretty much just focused on my drink. In this reality, Sara's a lesbian. I would have cried if I didn't think that it would bring more attention to me.

Susan was somewhere on the dance floor when I initiated the process. The nicotine smell that enveloped the dark bar room was momentarily replaced by the smell of chalk dust as I meditated. A drag queen was singing "Fever." It could be several hours before the process was complete.

"You give me Fever." When I opened my eyes, the room did a 360 rotation and then came into stark focus. My previous emotions evaporated and I was drunk, not on diet Pepsi, but on power and anonymity.

This isn't my life. I can fuck it up as much as I want.

"Fever. In the morning. Fever all through the night." Tiny points of light circled the room from the disco ball and swarmed across the overalls, sequined gowns, blue jeans, pant suits, leather and khaki that comprised the bobbing and dancing audience.

I sprung into the crowd like a heterosexual in a room full of lesbians. Internet lesbians. Susan was rubbing against some chick with a shaved head. I gave Susan a peck on the cheek, then disappeared further into the crowd and closer to the stage.

"What a lovely way to burn." The transvestite finished her song. She wasn't really a very good singer. Her voice was still too gruff and masculine. She was wearing a red sequined gown, black high heels and had her tiny man breasts pushed up into a wonder bra.

"Hi. I'm Malcolm, want to dance?" I said.

"Sure thing, sailor," she replied.

I grabbed her in an awkward, middle school dance embrace and we rocked gently back and forth as the next song began.

"When I fall in love, it will be forever."

"So, do you do this often? I mean, dress up like a chick and sing?" I honestly inquired.

"Honey, I'm pre-op. I live my life this way," she said.

"That's cool."

I was fairly relieved when the song ended. I was about two steps away from a full fledged erection. I mean, all things considered, she was pretty hot and she would normally be way out of my league.

"Thanks, sweetie," said the transvestite transsexual. I smiled, nodded and made my way back to the bar. Susan was there, dragging on a cigarette. I had no idea that she smoked.

"Way to go Malcolm," said Susan, "I always knew you had it in you."

What does that mean?

"I'm so happy to see you having fun, Malcolm. I mean, I've been really worried about you recently. It's been so long since I've seen you smile," she said. And then she gave me a huge hug. I now had a slight idea how the shaved lady that Susan was dancing with felt. It was wonderful and horrifying and wonderful.

I was halfway through my second diet Pepsi when I felt a drop on my cheek. I looked up, then I passed out.

Again, I had the experience that reality was being ripped away like a velcro strap.

CHAPTER THREE: Betrayal in the Sally Dimension

I was awakened by a screeching beep. I had dreamt that the transvestite in the red dress was giving me a back massage, except the dream was entirely tactile and his hands were unmistakably feminine. We kissed and his saliva had the consistency of semen. The beep continued and filled the room. I quickly assessed that I was now in my old room at my parents' house. The walls were barren and off-white, but the bookshelf at the edge of my sight, behind the bed stand, was an old familiar friend.

I hadn't slept here in six months, when I dropped out of high school in order to work exclusively on my training. I also truly hated high school. I was surprised to note that I hadn't experienced a nocturnal emission.

What a stupid euphemism. Biologically, a man is consistently creating ejaculate. It has to come out some time. There's a common misbelief that nocturnal emission is something that only happens to boys in the throes of puberty, but, in fact, it happens to any man who does not have an outlet for his semen. Any man that doesn't experience nocturnal emissions is either sexually active, very low on testosterone, or he takes time out regularly to relieve his testicle pressure manually.

I once read a site on the Internet about guys whose fetish is to have their prostate manually milked each day in order to deprive themselves of the pleasant ejaculation experience. Some of them voluntarily wear draconian chastity belts in order to further insure biological compliance. That's the problem with fetishists: They think they're sexually liberated, when, in fact, they're trapped in a sexual prison. It's wonderful when they can find someone to indulge their fetish, but odds are better that they'll never find that 13 year old Japanese schoolgirl who likes to be raped by a 30 year old guy in a giant tentacle costume. All fetishes are really just excuses for sexual deprivation.

I had a fetish. Her name is Sara.

"Honey, why haven't you gotten out of bed yet?" said my mom. Her voice resonated from behind my bedroom door.

"In a minute," I reflexively replied.

I guess I was going back to school today. I didn't bother taking a shower. I just threw on a pair of blue jeans and a green shammy shirt and I was out the door with the backpack I found on the back of my bedroom door. There was a note pinned to one of the shoulder straps. I unfolded it and discovered it was actually just a printout of my class schedule. "Good luck," was scrawled in my handwriting at the bottom of the sheet.

I ate my breakfast alone. Scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon and toast were sitting on the table when I arrived downstairs in the kitchen. The kitchen was just as I remembered it. Refrigerator door full of magnets: check. Plaid tea kettle cozy: Check. The sun shone in my eyes from the large window that overlooked the sink.

"Hey mom," I called out, "where's dad?"

My parents were both reformed hippies who sold out their counter-cultural ideals for thirty pieces of silver.

"He's giving a lecture in Chicago, remember?" said my mom as she entered the kitchen through the small doorway to my right.

My dad was an untenured professor of fashion design at Syracuse University. He was no more closer to tenure today than he was the day I was born, despite the endless striving to impress his superiors. He was almost always out of town giving a lecture, or hoping a key speaker would fall ill and allow him to give their lecture. When he was in town, he kept perpetual office hours as he slaved over his latest unpublishable journal article.

If it wasn't for pure tenacity and a willingness to sacrifice 100 percent of his family quality time, he would be teaching community college.

Last year, my mom quit her reporting job in order to become a full-time seller of thrift store crap on eBay. The income was better, but she had become incredibly boring in the process.

In fact, I could tell that today she was wearing a Janis Joplin sweatshirt and black sweats that she had never managed to sell.

The bus was ten minutes late. Or maybe it just comes ten minutes later in this alternate reality. Who cares?

Sara never understood why I always took the bus. The bottom line is that I really, really hate driving and car culture. We have built a society where people believe the sky will fall if they don't get to where they're going "on time." This is a tragedy. Life is a journey. It's an adventure and if people don't enjoy the time spent in their car, then maybe they should consider finding another way to get around. At least when I ride the bus I can do homework, read a book or close my eyes and listen to music. The sky will not fall if everyone added an extra few, peaceful minutes to their commute.

Oddly enough, I believe that if people got rid of their cars, they would actually have more free time, since they would be healthier and society would tend to reform itself away from sprawling megalopolises. Part of the cycle of anxiety and depression is disassociation from your environment. I know this from psychology and sociology books I've read. It seems axiomatic to me that automobile culture helps drive this disassociation. That's the way I feel when I'm driving and that's the feeling I perceive in other people when they drive. You don't connect with a neighborhood that you blow through on your morning commute. You don't get to know the people you drive to work with on the road everyday. That's why traffic jams irritate people so much: They also hate to drive. Sitting still is part of driving, and yet, those minutes really have been stolen from drivers, haven't they? No joy. No socialization. No education. No self improvement. You just sit there and do nothing. Lost minutes. It is pitiful.

Well, when I moved away from home, I had to give up my quixotic anti-automobile quest and get my license. I'd forgotten how much less unpleasant riding the bus was and how nice it was to not have to worry about monthly bills and crawling out of the deteriorating spiral of work and debt.

The Catholic hierarchy in Syracuse, New York has had many strange side effects over the years. Not the least of which is that it requires a 30 minute public bus ride for me to get to my public high school. The nearest Jesuit school is three blocks away. Despite my hatred for all things at my high school, I was never once tempted to transfer to a private school.

It's also impossible to find anything to do on the weekends here. Even the Dennys are closed on Sundays. It's a good thing I'm such a loser.

Oh God how I hate the snow. The elderly lady sitting next to me tried to start a conversation with me about today being the first snowfall of the year. I double checked the date on my watch—it was still late September for crying out loud. Syracuse in the winter was like living in a white, padded cell for six months out of the year, except instead of a straight jacket, you had to wear a heavy coat and two mittens tied together with yarn.

I dug through my backpack and found a CD player and a burned Sleater-Kinney CD that had many songs that I had never seen before. Sweet.

"All hands on the bad one." I'd reached my stop and half the bus got up to leave. My peers. My student compatriots. I recognized none of their faces. However, I did recognize the depressingly blank dark beige wall that loomed over the school's front doors. The snow was shovelled and salted on the path that led to the front door, but only for a few feet. It was as if the staff believed that the students would materialize a few feet from the front door, instead of having to walk there. The title "George W. Fowler High School" floated, centered, at the top of the wall, as if it were the letterhead on a giant piece of beige paper.

The first class listed on my schedule was computer science a la Quick Basic. That class was so below me that it hurt to merely read the title. Maybe my doppleganger is a remedial moron, I thought.

Or maybe he's an unsung genius. Sara was already seated at a computer near the front of the room. My heart raced to the tune of the whirring, clicking hard drives at seeing her again. I thought she had graduated.

I sat down next to her. "Hi," I said.

She smiled, then frowned. "You shouldn't be sitting here. I thought you taught this class," she said.

"Oh," I said as I started to get up. Sara giggled and tugged on my sleeve.

"Don't you dare," she said. "There's such a thing as taking a joke too far."

I sat back down. "What joke?" I said.

"Seriously, though, you never, ever show up on time for this class, and then you wreck the curve. If you're not careful, you'll make powerful, powerful, enemies Malcolm Langley."

When she said my name, it produced a pleasant tightness in my chest. I heard singing. I looked down and I noticed that I had left my CD player going in my backpack, so I reached down and turned it off.

The teacher arrived and he started handing out graded programming assignments. I glanced down at Sara's paper and noticed that the name "Sara" wasn't at the top of the paper. The name "Sally" was, though. Sara's name in this world must be Sally.

Her last name was the same, though: "Thatcher, Sally Thatcher," I said out loud. "Good job."

My paper arrived. It was slightly thicker than everyone else's. The assignment was about simple looping structures and graphic statements and I did the assignment normally and then I redid it in x86 machine language using poke and peek statements. No doubt I had done the assignment in less than 15 minutes.

I listened to the rest of my Sleater-Kinney CD while the rest of the class was taking notes on program control and creating subroutines. I'm surprised that the teacher allowed me to listen to headphones during class. I mean, that was pretty disrespectful of me.

"You're no rock and roll." Sally removed my headphones and asked me a quick question. She already knew the answer, but it felt good to feel useful.

This class would have been below Sara, too. Her job in my home universe was programming Flash sites in C++, for crying out loud.

In fact, Sally was done with the day's programming lab long before anyone else was. We chatted for a little while about the new Sleater-Kinney songs I'd discovered. It turned out that Sally was the one who burned the CD for me.

Eventually, the bell rang. I remembered that my next class was photography and I said goodbye to Sally. "What, aren't you going to walk with me?" she said.

I followed her to our next class. I wonder if my doppleganger actually managed to schedule all of his classes with her.

There was a hint of sarcasm to her voice as the second period teacher, Mr. Geoffreys, read the day's announcements. "Nomination forms for Mr. Fowler 2000 are available in the main office," he said with a smirk.

I opened my bag and searched for any more clues as to why I was there. Okay, sure, I was there for the girl, but I didn't know the first thing about photography. At the bottom of my bag, I found an envelope full of negatives and proofs.

The proofs were all of inanimate objects: my computer mouse, my bookshelf, a fire hydrant, a tree, a flower, a bus and a bunch of other boring crap.

I was sitting at a round table and Sally was to my left. I recognized a couple of other people around the table from my middle school days as a role playing geek. There was Andrew, the elvish mage and Jonathan, the dungeon master that was quite draconian with his rule. Sara came to one of our meetings once and Jonathan managed to ravage her with an entire platoon of invisible orcs. I never forgave him and I stopped attending the meetings of the role players club soon afterwards.

I was friends with Andrew for a short time after I quit the role players club but, after the L.A. riots, he stopped hanging out with all his white friends. Actually, I don't think it was the L.A. riots that made him reassess his ethnic ties, I'm pretty sure it was the last season of the "Cosby Show."

Before Andrew changed, though, he was your archetypical nerd boy. Scrawny, thick glasses, immeasurably book smart but utterly lacking in cultural and street smarts. He was Urkel personified. He was good for all kinds of dumb, theoretical Star Trek conversations but never wanted to talk about typical boyhood stuff, like girls. Actually, I have hearsay that he liked a couple of the same girls I liked, but their responses towards going out with him were along the lines of "eww," whereas I'm pretty sure

most of them were merely indifferent towards me. I was forming my social identity around in the sixth grade by joining various extracurricular clubs, but I quickly realized that I would need a partner in some of them. For some reason I kept getting paired up with the wheelchair kid and even he stopped coming to the meetings eventually. So, I pleaded with my friend to go to the clubs with me, but he wouldn't. I kept going to the meetings out of habit and I reached an awkward social equilibrium. Then, the next year, after hearing what fun I had in the roleplay club and after some of the other boys talked him into it, he joined enthusiastically. I was his best friend, though and I didn't appreciate how he ignored not only my recommendation but my need for his help at the time.

There were two other people at the table. A long haired blond boy and a chubby, yet cute, girl with auburn pigtails. Mr. Geoffreys took roll call and I learned that their names were Michael and Rachel respectively.

Sally pointed at one of my photographs. "I like that one," she said. I think it was the fire hydrant.

The rest of the period was spent in the school's darkroom. We were all huddled close together while Mr. Geoffreys instructed us about how to use the enlarger. Sally's hair smelled like coconuts.

"You might be tempted to use Photoshop for fine tuning, but I suggest that you always enlarge yourself manually," said Mr. Geoffreys. "Enlarge your prints, I mean."

"How Freudian is that," I muttered. Sally let out a suppressed squeak and poked me in the gut with her elbow.

The next class was English and I learned that there were assigned seats that made Sally sit all the way across the room from me. I slept through the class. I think they were reading Beowulf.

At lunchtime, I went to my locker. The number and combination were written on a slip of paper in my wallet. Two dozen empty cans of Mountain Dew tumbled from the bottom shelf as I swung open the door. The locker was otherwise empty except for a microcassette recorder, which I stuck in my backpack.

When I arrived in the cafeteria, I found Sally sitting at a table with the same people who were in our photography class. Jonathan and Andrew were playing Magic: The Gathering.

"Ha. No one expects the orcish inquisition!" called out Jonathan.

"Now, see here, sonny," said Andrew in a well-practiced Bill Cosby voice. "Your orc is no match for my jello black pudding pop."

Moments like these are the reason why I've shrugged off human contact completely. It doesn't matter which dimension you're in or which group of geeks you travel amongst, everyone's an archetype. Everyone follows a set pattern of conversation. For geeks, it's Monty Python reference, followed by obscure pop culture reference and finished with a light banter of anime or operating systems critique. For non-geeks, it's sports trivia, followed by mainstream pop culture reference and finished with a light banter of sexual innuendo. If you've heard one such conversation, you can extrapolate the outcomes of a hundred thousand others.

I eventually figured out that Michael and Rachel were boyfriend and girlfriend. At the moment, Michael's blond hair was all tangled in Rachel's auburn pigtails. Other people's public displays of affection was yet another reminder how much I loathed hanging out in public.

Sally was working on some physics homework. I helped her solve a problem regarding frictionless acceleration and gravity. If only the world were as simple as Newtonian physics in an ideal environment.

"I really need to do well in this class so I can get into the University of Chicago," said Sally.

I had no idea Sally wanted to go to the University of Chicago. In my reality, Sara moved to Seattle in order to be with her boyfriend at the UW.

"Why the University of Chicago, again?" I asked.

"That's where my boyfriend is." she said.

Oh. That explained it. Well, I can't really blame her. In my original reality, I moved to Seattle in order to be near Sara.

"I know I'm just doomed," said Sally.

"Why's that?" I said.

"Sure, I still have a four point oh, but they're going to take one look at my transcript and rip it up as soon as they see that I've taken five years to graduate."

"You have a four point but you didn't graduate?" I pondered out loud.

"Perfectionist," said Jonathan while faking a cough.

Sally got up, grabbed Jonathan's orc warrior card between her index and middle fingers and flung it across the room with a flick of her wrist.

Rachel unlocked her lips from Michael's neck just long enough to reassure Sally. "Sally, you've got great recommendations. Mr. Franklin said he's got connections with the math department dean and I'm sure Ribeiro's been totally sucking up for you," said Rachel.

Ribeiro was Sara's boyfriend in my dimension. He's Portuguese and he's one suave mother fucker. I have no doubt that he had somehow managed to arrange for the entire admissions office to suck his cock.

"God damn Crohn's disease," said Sally, who was now slouched down with her chin resting on her crossed arms. "Damn it."

I don't know where I found the courage, but I squeezed her shoulder with my left hand. "Rachel's right. It'll be okay," I said.

Sally sat up and gave me a hug. My mind flashed back to the previous night's hug, but I found myself feeling an entirely different set of emotions today. "I don't know what I'd have done without you," said Sally.

"Me neither," I said.

"I hate to break up this touching Hallmark moment," said Michael, who was finally bored enough with making out to speak up. "But the first bell rang two minutes ago."

I finally figured out what had been disturbing me for so long about Michael and Rachel. It wasn't their gross misuse of tongues in a public space, instead it was their style. Rachel's backpack was a clutter of sardonic buttons and colored cause ribbons. Michael was a near goth wearing a neon green and purple jester's hat. The couple was trying so hard to appear eccentric that I had totally failed to really notice them. They were different just like everybody else.

The next two classes I had with Sally were physics and calculus. Again, this stuff was totally below me, but I amused myself by doodling a picture of the school being engulfed by an angry Mandelbrot fractal creature.

The last class of the day was AP Psychology. We watched a videotape where this scary Italian guy with a goatee talked about things like training rabbits to blink reflexively and then removing that portion of their brains and doing it again. By the way, I don't care what everybody says, Pi was a lame movie.

I also learned about a girl who had an entire hemisphere of her brain removed in order to prevent epileptic seizures. It didn't surprise me when we learned that she was now leading an entirely normal teenage life. The brain is an incredibly adaptive organ. What they say about people only using 10 percent of their brains is total crap. The brain will adapt to make sure every neuron is busy solving a problem if the problem is pervasive enough. In fact, that's where people get into trouble, since if you obsess on a problem too long, it forces the brain to drop other problem-solving services.

As a matter of fact, I noticed that when I finished training the circuitry for astral leaping into my mind, I had forgotten five thousand digits of pi. Today, I can only recall digits one through one hundred and digits five thousand through six thousand. I still know a good chunk of e, though.

After the video, Mrs. Beamer called on me to list the parts of the brain on the chalkboard. Normally, I hate this kind of stuff, but luckily, I knew this information like the back of my hypothalamus. Some of my most important research this past year involved watching Pinky and the Brain sing "Brainstem!" several dozen times. As I cleared off a space on the board, an annoying whiff of chalk dust grated on my sinuses.

The bell rang and I walked with Sally to her locker. We talked about the video and, as she swung open her locker, I caught the scent of makeup and perfume and I saw a wallet sized picture of Ribeiro surrounded by a slightly wilting daisy chain. Sally put a token effort into appearing feminine and made up, not that it was even necessary, but it was always clear to me that she had an unhindered spirit.

I remember one afternoon in sixth grade where she made me help her make daisy chains in the park and then she insisted that we play with her Tonka Trucks and dig in the mud. I'd thought that I'd outgrown such baby games, but Sara always brought me back down to Earth.

The majority of the inside door to Sally's locker was plastered with fractals and Foxtrot comic strips. "Hey, can I have that picture you were drawing in physics class?" asked Sally.

I handed it to her and said, "sure."

She responded with an enthusiastic, "cool."

Sally offered me a ride home. I almost refused, since I used to always be hesitant to inconvenience other people, but for once I took her up on an offer.

She drove a green Suburu Outback and she handled it with an expert's care in the snow. "I wish it wouldn't snow so early," she said. "The salt is going to rust up my pretty, pretty car."

"Of course, I never even wanted this car," Sally continued speaking. "My dad just gave it to me instead of letting me fly to Portugal with Ribeiro to meet his family. It's like my dad thinks he can tie me to this country by weighing me down with material possessions."

Material possessions. I had forgotten all about those when I developed my astral leaping technology. You just can't take it with you. "So, is your dad's plan working?" I said.

"Actually, kind of, yeah..." said Sally. "You should see the desktop computer I'm getting for Christmas."

When I got home, I went straight to my room and took a nap. Socializing always tires me out. At 8 P.M., I awoke in a cold sweat and I had a sudden urge to listen to the microcassette tape that I had found in my locker earlier that day. I found it in the back pocket of my backpack and I attached my headphones to the output jack. I pressed play.

The sound that filled my head was the demon spawn of a modem handshake, whale song and fingernails on a chalkboard. I smelled bacon. I threw the tape recorder into the wall and it smashed into a dozen pieces, but it was too late. The sound had somehow triggered the astral leaping process.

I crossed the room and picked up the broken tape. It was labelled "alibi," and I recognized the handwriting as my own.

The phone rang. It was Sally and she was crying. My mom knocked on my door to ask about the crash she just heard, but I yelled at her to go away. "Malcolm, I need you," I could barely understand what Sally was saying. "Ribeiro's dead and my parents aren't home and I don't want to be alone."

"Oh my God. Of course. Anything," I said. There was a pause and my stomach felt like I'd just swallowed five pounds of ball bearings. "What happened?" I eventually said.

"His roommate called. He said Ribeiro killed himself. But... I don't know. I just don't know," said Sally.

I noticed I was crying.

The phone, the room, the Earth, it all was ripped away from my hands like velcro.

CHAPTER FOUR: Fear in the Samantha Dimension

I found myself standing over a small propane camp stove and I was holding a skillet of bacon. I stumbled to prevent dropping the skillet. "Malcolm, are you sure it's safe to cook with propane in here?" The voice came from another room. I was back in my Seattle apartment, but the only light in the room came from the stove and a few well-placed candles. I immediately recognized the voice as Sara's.

"What's happened to Ribeiro? Is he alright?" I turned to speak in her direction.

Sara's doppleganger stepped into the room with a double quick pace and brushed by me as she turned off the propane stove. "Okay, you're really pale. I told you that cooking in here was a bad idea. Let's go outside," she said as she took the skillet from my hands and placed it on the kitchen counter. I didn't move, so she lightly grabbed my upper arm and guided me to the door. I noticed that I actually had some upper arm for her to grab on to.

"Hey. I've been working out," I said. "Which reminds me, what's your name?"

"Malcolm. It's me, Samantha, and I'm here for you. Just don't hurt yourself again, okay? Just try to relax and think of somewhere calm. We're going to walk up to the roof and look at the stars, okay?" she said with a soft, but strong, tone that was insufficiently hiding some inner fear.

The stairwell was completely black except for a stream of moonlight that illuminated a diagonal streak down the inside. "What's going on?" I asked.

Samantha shushed me and switched from leading me by the arm to holding my hand. I looked down and noticed deep bruises that ran across my knuckles and didn't hurt. In fact, I felt entirely numb. I looked at my other hand and realized that I had burned myself on the skillet. It wasn't a serious burn, but I was surprised that it also didn't hurt. We reached the top floor and I looked up to see the entire full moon was guarding the stairwell's skylight.

Where there should have been a cityscape, there was pitch darkness. I'd never been on the roof before, but there wasn't much to see except for a cement floor surrounded by a railing and a chain link fence. We laid down on the cement and the milky way came into startling view. I'd never seen it in the city before. That night was a warm night for late September.

Orion's belt moved several degrees before we went back inside. Samantha and I had plain bacon sandwiches before going to bed. In fact, the only food in our apartment was bread and the four strips of bacon I had already cooked. We chatted for a little bit, but it was clear to me that Samantha wasn't prepared to explain our situation to me just yet. Instead, we talked about Saphos, Greek philosophy and eventually Stoicism. I could tell that the tenets of Stoicism were very appealing to Samantha.

"Okay, so is that the same Zeno who invented Zeno's Paradox?" she asked.

"I think so, yeah." I said.

"Where does the story about the ant who always crossed half a distance, so he never gets anywhere, fit in with the Stoic philosophy, then?" said Samantha.

"I don't think that has anything to do with Stoicism, actually. I think Zeno was just trying to confuse people."

"Are you sure?" said Samantha, "I mean, that ant had to be pretty damn stoic."

I smiled at that. "The ant is guaranteed to always advance at least a quanta anyways," I said.

"Ah ha. I always knew you were a believer in a discrete Universe. Shame on you," she said.

"Actually, I believe in multiple discrete universes."

Sometimes when I talked to Sara, it felt like I was talking to myself. Sometimes, very rarely, the entire conversation flowed as if we were of one mind. A highly schizophrenic, multiple personality disordered mind, mind you. Whenever I thought that the world was full of nothing but dumbasses, talking to her would alleviate that narcissistic fear. Sometimes I thought I understood that old, trite metaphor about love making two bodies meld into one. Sometimes I needed a cold shower just to remember I was an individual.

By the end of the evening, it was very clear to me that, in this dimension, Samantha and I were in a platonic relationship, but I wasn't sure why. She initiated contact a few times, sure, but every time I reached toward her, she stepped back. I also didn't care. I didn't really feel anything in that body right then.

We slept in separate beds in separate rooms, but every time I woke up screaming, and I lost count of how many times that was, Samantha rushed into the room and patted my head and told me I was safe. The only dream I remembered that night was the very last one.

I dreamt I was standing in front of the musical fountain at the Seattle Center. It was a beautiful, sunny day and bathing suited children were playing in the fountain as usual. The fountain was playing a Miles Davis song that I didn't recognize, so I'm not sure why I knew it was Miles Davis. Suddenly, the music and the water stopped and the fountain began to fill up with blood from below. All of the children disappeared, except for one that was drowning. I dove into the thick, warm depths and searched with my hands, hoping to find the child. I swam deeper and deeper and strained not to breathe. I found the child. It was Ribeiro and I dragged him to the surface, but, by the time I was there, the body I carried had become a doll's body and it was limp and lifeless. I emerged from the pool gasping for air, tired and defeated and then I heard an explosion.

I awoke on my feet. I was standing on the bed and I was crouched as if I were about to strike something. I was shaking.

Sunlight had started to stream into my bedroom and I decided I would go explore without waking up Samantha. I found my car in its parking space in the garage, but there was no gas in the tank. However, there was a single speed bike with yellow paint and red, rusty speckles sitting in the back seat.

I made it quite far without getting the least bit winded. The streets were almost utterly deserted, even the freeway, despite the proximity to morning rush hour. Something ominous loomed in the patchy blue and grey sky. As I approached downtown through the industrial district, I realized that the ominous sight was actually the lack of something: I hadn't seen the Space Needle during my entire ride.

The roof was up over the post-modern, post-industrial girders of SAFECO field and several Red Cross vans were parked outside. A line was forming behind a van where they were handing out coffee and donuts. I proceeded another block before I realized I was being followed.

"Hey Malcolm! Hold up!" he said. It was Andrew, my once best friend from middle school. He was wearing a white vest and baseball cap and each were marked with a red cross and it contrasted starkly with his dark skin. I was reminded of the white tuxedo he wore when he won the "Mr. Fowler" pageant sophomore year. Unlike me, he had become incredibly popular when we began high school. He became one of those genuinely nice people whose popularity transcends clique boundaries, despite some of his geekier tendencies. Or, perhaps, because of them. He eventually developed an empathy that allowed him to fit in with any group he wanted to spend time with, because he could sense each individual's needs.

It was annoying as hell. I can't understand people who don't have an invariable set of rules that define their personalities. Their outward persona is always changing, so you can never be quite sure what lurks beneath.

It's like they die every time they leave you.

"Malcolm. Whoa. I'd heard you were still in Seattle, but I didn't think I'd find you," said Andrew. "Hey, I see the Y2K apocalypse has helped you get in shape, huh?"

"Looks like it, yeah," I said. "What's going on with you? Did you drop out?"

"Oh no, not really," he said. "I volunteered with the Red Cross in New York City over the summer and I realized that there was so much important work to do right now, that school could wait."

"That's great."

"Hey, I gotta get back to work and you must have something important to do if you're actually out travelling right now," he said.

"What do you mean?" I said.

"Surely you know that weekend curfew lasts until 10 am, right?" he said. "I mean, I just got here, but I thought I heard you've been stuck here since New Year's, right?"

"Oh right. I knew that," I said. "I'll be careful."

"Take care. And come back and visit me, okay? Just ask around the tent city and somebody will know where I am," said Andrew and he turned back to undoubtedly return to handing out styrofoam cups in a holy crusade to caffeinate the starving masses.

"I guess Y2K wasn't just hype in this dimension," I mumbled to myself.

There was a military blockade surrounding the Seattle Center when I reached Key Arena. It must have been close enough to 10 am, because they didn't bother me and I continued a few more blocks around the barricade until I found a line of civilians who were being let into the center. People were carrying balloons and flowers. I specifically noticed a young, barely ten years old girl, with tight brown curls who was carrying a pair of white lilies. I don't think she had any better idea what was going on than I did.

When I reached the front of the line, I recognized the musical fountain and I remembered my dream for the first time. I began to have an intense, inexplicable, panic attack. My skin was cold, bloodless, but my heart was suddenly pounding. "Sam! Get down! Get down!" I cried out as I jumped to shield the brown haired child.

I had memories that I shouldn't have had. A flashback.

The military police wrestled me to my feet. The girl was crying, but she was no more worse for wear. The MPs started to arrest me, but the girl's father, wearing a black trench coat, interrupted them. The military police allowed all three of us to enter the premises.

"I recognized you from that night," said the man in the black trench coat. He was holding his daughter's hand and she had stopped crying. The man in the black trench coat held the smothered lilies in his other hand.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what happened," I said.

"My wife was a psychiatrist," said the man. "My name's David." I shook his hand.

David also had brown hair. We walked to the site in silence.

The sight was awesome. It was almost as awesome as the Space Needle was when it was standing. The first thing we saw as we rounded the pavilion house were the toppled pillars of the Space Needle's base, lying parallel to the ground like many short, fractured, bleached bones. A chain link fence ran around the wreckage and it was plastered with small poems, fresh and dying flowers, balloons and plaques.

Blue and purple sheets of metal lay scattered around the scene like giant pieces of confetti. We climbed up onto some plain metal scaffolding where other mourners were gathered. The saucer had landed on a McDonalds. You could tell, because the drive-thru menu had miraculously survived intact. Truly, it was a sign from God. All that was left of the Experience Music Project were the confettied metal strips.

The price to be paid for the hubris of attempting to resurrect Jimi Hendrix was a terrible one.

I started to walk away, but David grabbed me by the shoulder and handed me a scrap of paper with an address on it. "It was my wife's therapy office, before she died," he said. "Tell them you're a friend of mine. They can help you there."

"Thank you," I said, but it was an instinctual response. I felt like I was somewhere else. It was a feeling that was not unlike the moment that the velcro rips away.

I'd left my bike chained up against the Seattle Center's perimeter fence. When I retrieved it, a grumpy national guardsman lectured to me about being more careful about where I leave my things. I rode for a few minutes, but I stopped when I reached Pioneer Place. I sat down.

I meditated on the memory I'd received when I had my flashback. The memory returned as vividly as if I were still there. More vividly than the actual flashback.

I was surrounded by people waving streamers, blowing horns, and counting down. Midnight! Fireworks raced down the length of the Space Needle as if someone was unzipping the zipper on a pair of flash paper pants. Samantha and Ribeiro were kissing and everyone was cheering. Samantha noticed my forlorn look and turned to give me a hug that was half hug and half pat on the shoulder. There was screaming and loud pops and people hitting the ground, but not of their own free will.

The pops were coming from a short school bus that was mowing through the crowd with the force of both riflery and momentum. At this point, Samantha was a foot to my right and Ribeiro was to my left. "Sam! Get down! Get down!" I heard someone else say it, but it was in my own voice. I pushed her to the ground.

I awoke into the present moment from my meditation. I was still a little shaky as I rode my bicycle home, but I was slightly more aware of my surroundings now. There were a few more cars on the roads now, and quite a few bicycles, but still not too many. Most of the cars were newer, luxury models and they all exceeded the speed limit, which made my trip all the more perilous and nobody obeyed the four way stop rule for malfunctioning or powerless traffic control devices. When I reached SAFECO field, the line outside the donut van was wound well around the block. It was longer than any other lineup I'd ever seen at the stadium. Andrew was still handing out donuts, so I stopped and said hello.

He couldn't talk for long, but he surreptitiously slipped me a box of donut holes. He probably heard my stomach grumbling. I was quite grateful, even if it was difficult to hold the box, balance my bike, climb hills and dodge cars all at the same time.

I was only a couple blocks away from the apartment complex when I realized that the traffic lights were on here. I was overjoyed, and I noticed that more than a little of that joy was at the thought of seeing Samantha again. In this reality, I saw her every day because I lived with her.

I was overcome with an unimaginable swell of guilt. I was closer to my best friend and secret crush, but it was only because Ribeiro was dead. And I killed him. No, I didn't kill him, at least, I didn't think I did, but maybe some other me did.

I thought about using the elevator, but it seemed like a much better idea to keep on using the stairs. I recognized the faces of a few of my neighbors as I climbed the stairwell. I'd seen them before in my original reality. Samantha was pacing when I returned. "Where have you been all morning?" she asked worriedly.

I extended the box of donut holes towards her. "Holy crap, Malcolm. I forgive you," she said.

I was so proud of myself, but I didn't know why. "Andrew gave them to me. He's working with the Red Cross down at SAFECO field, do you remember him?" I said.

"You mean that do gooder who was Mr. Fowler 1998?"

"The one and the same," I said.

"Oh my God. That boy rocks." Samantha was smiling graciously as she took a bite out of a handful of donut holes.

I started booting up the computer, and I took note of the Pringles can that was pointing out our apartment window. I had surmised correctly that we had a wireless Internet connection and I connected immediately to the Seattle Wireless public network. The connection crawled, since there must have been a single bottleneck in the network where Seattle connected with the rest of the world. Samantha was reading a worn copy of Plato's Republic, but she looked up to warn me not to be online too long. "Don't you dare use up all of the Uninterruptable Power Supply today," she said. "Our energy quota ends in forty-five minutes, so you'd better be offline by then."

Forty-five minutes later, I had the divergent timeline for this particular universe pretty well figured out. The most obvious change was that the United States had become the focal point for terrorist activity at the turn of the century. The extremists were obviously trying to capitalize on the pre-Y2k computer breakdown paranoia that never really came to pass for this world.

However, it all started with Ross Perot. I was pretty impressed, and surprised, with myself when I realized that history stood unchanged all the way up until 1992. You see, Ross Perot dropped out of the 1992 presidential election at the last minute, which led to a close, but definitive, victory for George Bush Sr. and Dan Quayle. A few years later, a second Gulf War was ignited when Iraq dismissed UN weapons inspectors and apparently managed to shoot down an American F-16 that was patrolling the border of the no fly zone.

The Colin Powell of this dimension was ruthless. He waged a total war against Baghdad that levelled Saddam Hussein's regime in less than a month. Every suspected weapons site, palace or hideout was demolished with a barrage of daisy cutters and bunker busters. More than a few civilian neighborhoods were ravaged long before American troops stepped foot within a hundred miles of the capital. However, it appeared that none of that really mattered, since Hussein covered his escape by igniting every oil rig and gassing every populated area that the American troops passed through. In the end, President Bush claimed that the body of Hussein had been identified, but persistent rumors from reputable web sites hinted at the possibility that Hussein had fled to Afghanistan and was forming an uneasy alliance with radicals there.

Indeed, there was a mass exodus of Hussein loyalists out of Iraq and into the newly sympathetic Muslim nations. "Remember Baghdad," became the rallying cry of a new brand of religious extremism. Their formerly disparate numbers were refreshed with a new passionate hatred for the crusaders of Western Culture and America in particular. It turns out that the last thing you want to do when you're faced with a group of suicidal, murderous zealots is to give them a target and a common cause.

At first, moderate Muslim nations fought the rock hurling mobs with riot shields and fire hoses, but many were forced to cut their ties (read: oil) with the west. Well, the United States produces one-third of the world's oil on this earth, so things were tight, but they weren't particularly impossible.

In 1996, the Republicans got lazy and nominated Dan Quayle for their presidential candidate with George W. Bush as his running mate. The pair's reputation for intelligence was gunned down by late night television and the Quayle/Bush ticket was raped by Clinton/Gore at the polls.

Nevertheless, the Republican congress managed to convince the nation's media to give a rat's ass about the Linda Tripp scandal. Oh yes, I found that twist particularly ironical myself, but it turns out that the Linda Tripp in this dimension had plastic surgery at a younger age and she became the President's White House secretary. Everything pretty much played out exactly as the Monica scandal did in my dimension, except this time it was a Baby Ruth instead of a cigar.

When almost all hands were lost after the sinking of the USS Cole, President Clinton secretly sent an elite expeditionary force to Afghanistan to wreck vengeance on the attack's masterminds. Almost all of the three hundred and forty seven crack paratroopers were slaughtered as soon as they hit the ground. The few survivors and the surviving crew of a Black Hawk helicopter were joyfully executed in the Kabul soccer stadium. The procession was videotaped and copies were sent out to the various western media outlets. Fox News aired the footage first, but almost every other American media outlet followed suit by displaying the graphic imagery until every bloody frame was etched into the American public's mind.

As the impeachment trial for the Linda Tripp scandal loomed over his head, Clinton resigned his presidency. Gore's first presidential act was to bulldoze over the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Time Magazine had a famous cover image where American troops were seen raising the American flag in front of the rescued Great Budda. The soccer stadium execution was the inset image, since that week marked the six month anniversary of that momentous event.

The first events I researched when I got on the Internet were the events of last December and last January. It all began with the Space Needle bombing and the unsuccessful biological attack on Times Square. Then, after a week of calm, on January seventh, six airliners were hijacked and crashed into various other monuments. Then came the strategic disruption of the West Coast's power grid through a relentless attack against various power substations and, when those were all well protected, against individual neighborhood transformers. Then came the mixture of real and fake anthrax attacks against politicians, post offices, schools, fire houses, hospitals and residences. Then came the biological attack scares against food and water supplies. Many thousands, tens of thousands, of Americans were dead, but it became more and more evident to me that the real havoc was being caused by the reporting. In fact, only a dozen large cities were being affected and only select populations within those cities were being targeted, but the media made sure that every little podunk town and every little podunk mayor was on the verge of declaring martial law.

Frankly, I find it entirely plausible that the Muslim extremists must have infiltrated the American media in order to use it as a force magnifier for their mass terrorization campaign.

I also discovered that gasoline in this world costs ten dollars a gallon, but you could get it for six if you could successfully sneak across the border to Canada. However, the American border guards would never let you back in.

When the power went back out, Samantha said, "This book is incredibly boring."

"Well, they can't all be as exciting as the Phaedo or the Apologia," I said.

There was a knock on the door. Andrew had come to visit. I'd forgotten that I'd given him our address earlier this morning.

"Our hero," said Samantha. "Thanks for the donuts."

"Hey, no problem," said Andrew.

"So, what's the news on the east coast?" I asked.

Andrew related that, when he left Syracuse, Jonathan was dating an incredibly possessive Catholic girl. Wow. I always thought he was gay, but I guess I didn't really have any justifications for that assumption. Michael and Rachel had broken up, but they got back together right away.

"Que sera, sera," said Samantha.

"Oh, your parents were really worried, Malcolm," said Andrew. "You should write them right away."

"Okay." I lied.

"I'm sorry we don't have more amenities to offer," said Sam.

"Hey, you've got running water, right? That's an improvement over the tent camp," said Andrew.

"Am I the only one who hears a Mariachi band?" I said.

We all huddled around the window, where, indeed, we could see a Mariachi band practicing on the sidewalk below.

"That's fucked up," I said.

Samantha dug up a deck of cards and we played "Go Fish" as the Mariachi band started into a rendition of "Spanish Harlem."

Halfway through our second game, the Mariachi music stopped suddenly in the middle of a song and a disturbance could be heard outside. The clanging of brass horns, wooden guitars and fists drifted into the empty space left by the music.

Andrew ran to the window. "Holy crap, those guys are stealing their instruments," he said.

Andrew turned and sprinted towards the stairwell. Samantha and I followed close behind. We ran down all eight stories; however, by the time we reached the ground floor, the attackers were still attacking.

They looked like the gang that terrorized only the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs. It was a lot of suburban white boys, a white girl and one Asian. The Mariachi band put up a good fight, but you could tell that they were weakened by circumstance, hunger and were greatly outnumbered. Andrew leaped into the fray.

Andrew was athletic. After he stopped playing so much Nintendo, he became quite a proficient member of the track team, but he wasn't a particularly skilled fighter. I remembered my newly discovered muscular alternate dimension body and I figured, "what the heck."

Two of the whitest of the white boys were beginning to pin Andrew to the asphalt. I tackled the larger of the two and we rolled for a couple feet before he landed on top of me and started to deliver several blows to my chin. I struck back with a fist to the gut, flipped him on his back and beat the smirk off his face quite quickly. He got up and started to run away. He called out to his friends, who also decided that all this grief wasn't quite worth a few bucks from the pawn shop. I'd noticed that Andrew had managed to scrape up his sparring partner a bit, as well.

Samantha chased after the Asian boy and she ripped the stolen guitar from right hand. He raised his other hand to strike her and a bellowed out a ferocious cry. Instead, he looked up, paused and ran to join the rest of his posse.

Another minute has passed until I realized that my lip was bleeding. Andrew was pretty beat up, too, as were the Mariachis. I touched the blood on my shirt, looked up and said, "You should see the other guy."

Actually, the g-funks weren't all that badly hurt. They must just have had a low tolerance level.

Marcos, the apparent band leader of the Mariachis, offered the unstolen portion of their day's tips to us in gratification. "No thank you," said Andrew as Samantha and I nodded in agreement.

"No, thank you," said Marcos.

"De nada," I said. "We were just upset when we stopped hearing your beautiful music."

The band played some more songs and offered us some tequila and Pabst that they were saving. Samantha tried to teach me the cha-cha, which was both fun and awkward since I have no rhythm. We asked Andrew to stay at our apartment for the night, but he said that he had to return to the camp and he assured us that he'd be extra careful during the bike ride back.

Samantha lent me her shoulder as we climbed up the stairs. I had lied and said my leg was hurt when we were dancing. Unlike the night when I arrived, this time I wasn't numb to my feelings as she helped me climb the stairs. I felt like I had woken up from a terrible dream but that there was a matron there to comfort me.

That night I fell into an incredibly peaceful sleep. Peaceful, at first, at least. The nightmares returned and I woke up screaming. My fists struck out at the black void in front of me and I started to bang my head into the mattress below. I felt a comforting hand on my head and on my chest. "Shh... Malcolm, it's okay. I'm here. It's okay," she said.

I laid with my head in her lap for what seemed like a millennium. It was perfect. I felt perfect as she stroked my hair and my cheeks and my chest. And when she kissed me, it was like a pleasant explosion. I felt her tongue in my mouth and I felt like we were singing. I felt her hand on my thigh and it felt like I was finally alive.


I saw the ball of flames as the short bus blew apart like a popped mylar balloon. The heat wave hit me as if I were opening the stove to check on the Thanksgiving turkey. Ribeiro was already on the ground, bleeding to death from two seemingly strategically placed gunshot wounds. I ducked down beside him and I was struck by a piece of the canopy from the Seattle Center Merry-Go-Round. I shoved it off of me.

Samantha hit the floor next to my bed with a dull thud and a snap. She stared at me with longing and betrayal and she tried to stand up but I could tell I had broken her wrist. "I can't... I can't... I'm sorry," I mumbled.

"I killed ... I don't want to kill you, too," I said. I stood up and ran to the door and down the stairs in the darkness.

The air had suddenly chilled tonight. My thoughts were returning to me and I thought about going to the camp and staying with Andrew. Instead, I got on my bike and headed towards the Seattle Center.

I was on the waterfront when I realized that going there was probably a psychologically bad idea at this point. I remembered the address that was given to me at the memorial by David. I proceeded to the ferry landing and I spent half the night memorizing the address. Maybe I really do just need therapy.

I've had that sneaking suspicion that I should seek therapy for several years, but when I think about reaching for the phone, I get the same feeling I got when I finished reading Catcher in the Rye. Holden goes to an institution, he didn't kill himself, and the story is more or less resolved. It's not right. Holden doesn't need therapy, all he ever needed was to find Jane, the girl who always kept her kings in the back row. I can't help but think that if anybody cared enough that I wouldn't need therapy. And if nobody cares, what's the point of being healthy?

Anyways, I think I have a petty good grasp on what my psychological weaknesses and patterns are. I have my suspicions about where my neurosis originated and it's not particularly spectacular enough to pay anybody to talk about. I will refuse to take any of the serotonin uptake inhibitors that are only a little more effective than placebos. My affliction isn't life threatening. Just because I sometimes hate myself doesn't mean I want to harm myself. Quite the opposite, really. My only real fear is the thought of

nonexistence and I think there's a nonzero probability that that's what death is like. Of course, this nonexistent fear manifests itself in inconsistent ways. For instance, I'm more comfortable riding my bike in heavy traffic without a helmet than boarding an airplane or, for some reason, chatting up a girl.

That's because my other pseudo-fear is that I will inconvenience people. This is certainly taken to irrational extremes when I don't introduce myself to a strange girl who smiles back at me, or when I don't ask for simple help. On the other hand, people rarely give me anecdotal evidence to allay these fears. You'd think that almost never asking for help would mean that people that know you would take you seriously when you do. Nope. Not in my experience. I think it must be painfully obvious to people I've had contact with that I'm pretty lonely, and yet no one has ever, in any of my recent memory, gone out of their way to spend time with me.

This fear is self-fulfilling. My shyness makes people uncomfortable, because they're reminded of whatever part of themselves is shy.

After I memorized the address to the therapy office, I spent the other half of the night waiting for the process to take place. My mind was muddled with guilt and love and want and regret, and jealousy, so it took several tries before the meditation was successful and the astral leaping circuitry was initiated.

CHAPTER FIVE: A Funeral in the Simone Dimension

The velcro parted and I emerged within a body that was sitting in the fourth row of a Catholic church. I could tell it was Catholic, because there was a confession box standing at the end of the row. The church was also incredibly large and gaudy. The person I recognized as Sara was standing at a podium, but she was introduced as Simone by the priest. She was reading a eulogy, which I immediately assumed was Ribeiro's.

"I first met him when I was a foreign exchange student during the summer of my freshman year in high school. In fact, it was in a discotech in Valencia," said Simone.

You could tell that she had just finished crying before coming up to speak, because her eyes were red and swollen. Nevertheless, she was trying very hard to appear strong while she gave the eulogy. Her posture was unnervingly straight and her gaze was distant.

"We weren't allowed to go to the disco that night," she said, while forcing a smile. "And I was a little bit scared and I was trying to tell my friends that we shouldn't stay very long. But when I met him, I forgot about everything."

"He was tall, dark and handsome and I spent forty minutes talking to him in stuttered Spanish when I finally realized that I hadn't understood a word he said. He was speaking Portuguese!" She forced a laugh.

"I was so embarrassed, that I turned to leave, when he said to me, in English, `You have the most beautiful eyes,' and he grabbed my arm and turned me around," said Simone. "He told me that he'd forgotten how to speak English because he was so lost in my beauty. I was hooked, and when I discovered that my friends had ditched me, Ribeiro walked me back to my foreign exchange family's home."

"I always felt safe with him."

This particular body that I had leaped into was neither as strong nor as boiling with chaos as the previous body. There were no signs of Post Traumatic Stress, but, nevertheless, I felt that the same intense, irrational, feeling of guilt was welling up inside my lungs. I knew I had killed him, but I didn't know how. I knew why, though.

"Ribeiro was the kindest, nicest, and most sincere, helpful, and nonjudgmental person I have, or ever will, meet. I knew that it pained him intensely when he left his family in Portugal in order to study here, but, I have to admit, I was thrilled to have him all to myself. I was selfish to think I could ever hope to have him..." She was crying.

"And that's why God is punishing me," she said quietly while her face was facing the ground. She said it so quietly, that no one could hear her, except for me. No one in the first few rows could hear her, but I could and I don't know why I know this.

Many other people spoke and there was no doubt that Ribeiro was a great man. He volunteered with the elderly and he studied medicine so he could save babies and he once chased a lost dog through traffic so he could return it to a child and he always attended church.

He was a better man than I could ever hope to become. I wasn't jealous of him, in as much as I was hopeless to ever live up to the standard of humanity that he set. He was brilliant and tenacious. He took 27 credit semesters and he was a junior while his premed peers were still dorking around with tapping kegs, pledging frats and finishing their first few humanities requirements.

I'm smart, but I could never be as successful in this world as he was.

"Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." It was the Priest's turn. I thought about getting up and finding Simone and comforting her. I couldn't stand to see her in such pain, but I remembered how part of me would feel good about helping her and I didn't want to feel good. I didn't deserve good. I was a horrible, horrible thing.

There was a reception. There were hushed, ominous conversations afoot, that I gathered were about suicide, and there was crying and there were a lot of people who looked like they were there just for the food. I think a few people were speaking Portuguese. Simone appeared in the room and some people swarmed to comfort her, but she looked around and graciously left again. I followed her back into the church's main hall.

A statue of the Virgin Mary stood watch over Ribeiro's open casket. Add three wise men, a camel, a few sheep and some frankincense you'd have an awfully post-modern Nativity scene.

I peeked into the coffin and, I can't explain it, but I saw my own face. My gut tightened like a drum and that was the straw that broke the Christmas camel's back. I initiated another astral leap.

Simone saw that I was in pain, curled up on the floor in fact, and she came to be with me. She held my hand and told me to be strong. I felt the world slipping away and that's when she said it. She said, "I know it was you." And then I was somewhere else.

CHAPTER SIX: The Jaime Dimension

The room was made of white plastic and the walls were blank and this body was extremely light. There was a computer terminal in the room, a single bed, and a locked door. I sat down at the computer terminal and I was incredibly intrigued by the background image. It said, "Property of the Helsinki, Mars Astral Projectioneering Institute. For use by authorized faculty and student purposes only." The type was English, but the font was particularly Arabic in appearance. There was a blue square in the top-right hand corner of the screen and, when I looked at it, the image faded and two hand-sized panels extended outwards from the bottom of the screen and towards my lap.

"User Malcolm Langley recognized," read the screen. Two triangles that appeared like an hourglass followed my gaze as I moved my eyes across the screen. The screen was cluttered with icons and, when I stared at one too long, it burst open and spilled a note across the screen. In fact, the note was vaguely transparent and was floating behind the glass, but it was also a few centimeters above the icon that I had just looked too long at.

"Dear Malcolm: I know you're supposed to be in mental quarantine during your flight, but your mom and I had to disobey the system one time in order to slip you a note that says how much we love and are proud you. Besides, you're smart enough that you don't need the quarantine as much as the other students. Also, if you cut inside the soles of your shoes, you'll find a deck of cards. We didn't tell you before you left because we feared it would be discovered during your preflight interrogation."

I placed my hands on the two hand-sized panels and I discovered that they were chordal keyboards. I could edit the contents of the present note by pressing inwards with my fingers in various combinations. I heard a tone and the note that I was working on shrank to the bottom of the screen. This note had an apparent email header to it that was labeled from "Headmaster Reynolds." He said that there was only five hours left and that we should be doing the final editing of our 40 hour, 50,000 word history essays.

I managed to close the two notes on my screen and I saw that one of the icons was labeled "Current: History Essay." I stared at that icon and it opened up and spilled a few more icons near the top of the screen. One of the icons said, "word count." I stared at that icon and it reported that I had written 10,000 words.

The essay was titled, "Tsar Dostoyevsky, the Zeroth World War and the Discovery of the God Particle: Quantum Atomic Politics During the Mid-Nineteenth Century." All I really got out of reading the unfinished essay was that the Zeroth World War was called the Zeroth and not the First, because it was so well covered up that historians hadn't discovered it until several generations had already passed. Apparently much of the holocaust had been hidden because both the Allied and the Fulcrum Forces had tampered with the surviving civilians' minds.

I wasn't particularly interested in finishing the essay or exploring this reality's timeline, but the answer to the question of how this reality had diverted from my own became apparent the second I stumbled on this dimension's version of the World Wide Web. The first page that came up was the Royal Library of Alexandria's research start section. I did a quick search. Well, it wasn't too quick because I was still learning how to type the various key chords. The search revealed to me that, indeed, history changed dramatically in this reality during the first few centuries AD when the Library of Alexandria failed to burn down.

Well, good for them, but being locked in an empty plastic room for hours and hours is hardly the type of thing I wanted to travel to alternate dimensions to do. The computer was incredibly boring. Although it was designed for a worldwide network, all of the available information had been cached on the spaceship, since latency was incredibly long. I found the ship's main page and it explained how we were 36 hours away from the geosynchronous spaceport that followed the city of Olympia, Mars and that deceleration was proceeding smoothly and that they were quite confident that they could control the vector of the combined centifugal and deceleration forces in order to insure a perfect Martian gravity simulation for most of the duration of the trip in every First, Second and Student Class passenger cabin.

I tried to imagine how you would swing a cabin around a spaceship in order to maintain such a feat, but it made me dizzy. This thought experiment did give me a clue as to why my door was locked and there were no windows; however, since you wouldn't want anyone to vomit as they caught of glimpse of the swirling constellations outside or for someone to venture outside their cubicle and get squashed between migrating bulkheads.

I remembered the note about mental quarantine. For some reason, that phrase didn't bother me as much as it should have. After all, I felt like I had been trapped in a mental quarantine for years already. I explored the ship's database and I eventually found the viewbook for the Helsinki, Mars Institute for Astral Projectioneering. The classrooms were as sterile as the room I was currently in, except there were a few windows that looked out into the bleak red void. Apparently Helsinki, Mars was founded specifically for the Institute in order to give the students "an environment of free space, mental clarity and academic saturation." The nearest spaceport, Olympia, was 550 miles away from the Institute.

The back of my computer screen blanked out, and it displayed a single ominous message: "Pre-Frosh Student Malcolm Langley: You have failed to submit an essay. You will be deprived for the duration of the trip, pending an expulsion hearing."

"Deprived?" I said out loud.

The computer screen blanked and, thirty seconds later, the rest of the room's lights followed the computer's lead. Luckily, there was a small pocket knife with a flashlight in my pant's pocket, which I discovered several minutes later. I cut open the soles of my shoes and found a deck of cards, but they were for some game I couldn't play.

You can imagine that the rest of the space voyage was boring and uneventful. Being deprived meant more than being deprived of the computer and light, since they also failed to feed me for the intervening 36 hours. However, a water packet dropped down from the ceiling every so often. I eventually discovered that there was a button on the chair that opened up a small vacuum hole in the center for making waste. Actually, the hole only sucked when it sensed you were peeing nearby.

Seven water packets later, I was startled when a warning flashed up on my computer's screen: "Docking procedures require that all passengers secure themselves in their seats. Passengers that do not comply will be foamed for their own safety."

I'd had just about as much punishment from this dimension as I could handle, so I sat down in the seat that was facing the computer screen and attached the seat belts that had appeared from beneath it. A steward appeared on the computer monitor and he thanked me for correctly applying my seat belts. "Is there anything you would like before docking procedures begin?" he said.

"Uh, yeah, I'd like some food," I replied.

"Oh. I see you're on academic probation. I'm sorry, but the last time I snuck food to a Helsinki student, I was doubly demoted," said the steward.

"Thanks anyways," I said.

"It'll be just another quick eight hours until you get landfall," he said. "They always let the probation students eat then. Everybody has to fast before the docking adjustments anyways, but you know that because you had to fast while boarding, too."

My stomach bobbed and weaved as the ship made its docking maneuvers. I had no doubt that there was a fair amount of dry heaving was going on in every other passenger cabin. The starvation I could handle. I knew that I deserved it. But the frightful, jarring motions and the manipulated g-forces woke me from my state of self loathing long enough to remind me of another cold, hard reality. I was alone here, in this moment, and I was afraid. Afraid that there was nothing else.

Nevertheless, I had decided earlier that I wanted to see how this reality would play out. The concept of a spacefaring humanity has intrigued me throughout my childhood. Me and my geekly peers were weaned on The Next Generation and Babylon Five. I also had to find out what this whole Astral Projectioneering school was about and why it had suddenly entered my destiny.

Not that I believe in destiny.

The tumultuous motions stopped and I felt a light gravity that originated from the floor once again. I imagined that we were now on the periphery of a giant, spinning space station and that the feeling of gravity would increase as we ventured towards the center.

I gathered the few things I recognized as my belongings and I waited. Soon enough, the door sank into the door frame and I was free to enter a metallic passageway that was crowded with the confused, excited and queasy huddling masses. Each of the individual cabins was seated in the metal frame like pills that were ready to be popped out of their packaging. We were herded down the tight hallway by men and women wearing uniforms similar to the one that was worn by the steward earlier. The hallway was permanently labeled with signs that said, "Welcome to the Olympia, Mars geostationary spaceport end terminal. OUTER RING T, SECTION 6."

I eventually determined that the individual cabins were deposited by the ship along this outer ring. In fact, it was still deposited tiny white pills behind me as we walked. Every few minutes there would be a great thump sound and a vibration would channel under our feet, however, the feeling faded as we gained distance away from the action.

Several passengers were greatly weakened by the journey and they had to be carried by their companions. Others were left in their pods and the stewards and stewardesses would check on them and I got an ominous feeling that at least a couple might not respond. I ended up talking to a spry old woman who walked with a cane, despite not apparently needing it. She was trying to get the attention of one of the stewards and whacked him with the tip of her cane quite handily. The steward stared her down and threatened to call security.

"I'm sorry, I'm quite sorry," I said. "I'm not used to this gravity and I slipped and my foot caught her cane."

"You're one of the good ones, son," she said with a wide grin after we were a fair distance away from the authoritarian steward. The corridor's scent of mostly unbathed, six month hermetic folks was beaten down by this woman's sweet perfume.

"Have you been to Olympia before?" I asked.

"Why boy, you must be precognitive. As a matter of fact, I'm one of the few people who have made this expensive and perilous journey twice in their lifetime," she said. "Of course, it was much more expensive and perilous the first time I took it."

"When was that?" I asked.

"I was just a child. My parents were pioneers and we founded Olympia," she said.

I wasn't aware of how I was looking at her when she said, "now I know that look. It's not my fault that they got the name wrong. I was too young."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you know the story of the lost colony?" she said with a laugh. "They don't teach you Astral prodigies any superfluous knowledge, huh? Well, the short story is that we were supposed to make landfall at the base of Olympus Mons, but we landed at another mountain and called the settlement Olympia anyways."

"I see. That doesn't sound like such a big deal," I said.

"You see, the long story involves lost supplies, a giant search and eventual cannibalism," she said casually.

"Really?" I said.

She laughed. "Oh God no. Thanks for humoring an old lady, tyke, but this is my stop."

There was a ladder in the floor labeled First Class Express and a handful passengers that fit the intersection of the sets of capable and well-dressed were climbing down the ladder. A stewardess asked me if I needed help. "Where does that lead?" I asked.

"That's the express route to the main level," she said. "The waits for the elevators are incredibly long, so some of our First Class passengers prefer to climb instead."


"You don't have to worry. You're a student with the Institute, right? You're almost to the landfall pods." She said and then she lightly shoved me forward.

Holy Jebus was I hungry. I sensed a slight upward curvature in the floor a la the space ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it was so subtle that I might have been imagining it. This space station was obviously humongous. It surely put MIR to shame.

The landfall pods were docked into the sides of the station similarly to how our cabins were docked. The interior vaguely resembled a 737's interior and the entire trip was not unlike a six hour long turbulent landing at Denver, except that feeling of gut wrenching, falling weightlessness lasted all six hours. It was nothing compared to the docking maneuvers, though. There were also no windows in the tube, which was a huge disappointment. What's the point of space travel if you can't see the sights?

Come to think of it, I had no really good reason to believe that I wasn't just on a really crappy ride at Disney World for the past couple of days. Everyone on this particular haywire 737 simulator ride was dead silent and they were all my age and they were wearing similar robes as mine. This was the shuttle for students. Nobody talked.

When we landed at the Olympic Intersolar Spaceport, I exited the shuttle and I was herded away from the group by two pensive looking women in black robes.

"What's going on," I said.

"You are on academic probation, you were not supposed to board that shuttle," said the redheaded woman to my left.

"Why not?"

"You could contaminate the procession," said the black haired woman to my right. "There is special transportation for your kind."

The women led me to an empty lounge that was the size of a railroad boxcar. The walls were lined with 1960s style eggshell chairs. "The rest of the deprived ones will be along shortly in a later shuttle," said the redhead.

"Do I at least get to eat first?" I said.

"I suppose you have been deprived of that long enough," said the black haired one. The redhead nodded and then they left the lounge and I never saw them again.

A tray containing three packets swung around from the back of the chair I was sitting in. Two of the packets were warm and I recognized the third packet as a water ration. The first warm packet contained a breast of warm, airplane food style boiled chicken. The second packet contained plain white rice that was mixed with short, plain, hollow noodles. The second packet also contained a piece of plastic silverware that resembled a flat spoon.

I started to take a bite of the rice when I felt a cut on my lip. One side of the plastic spoon was sharp like a knife. It wasn't a spoon. It wasn't a spork. It was a spife.

Nobody was around, so I just ate with my hands. When I had finished, a small hole opened in the floor between my legs and a label appeared that said, "waste." I fell asleep.

I don't know how long I was sleeping when the other dozen or so misfits arrived. This group of robed students was much more talkative than the first. Food swung out from each of their chairs and each student ravished their packets. The spife was held perpendicularly to the fist with the knife end facing away from the mouth. Each student shoveled their rice and cut their chicken like a pro.

The ruddy faced girl who was sitting next to me reminded me of Rachel from school so much that I wondered where her boyfriend Michael might be. However, this girl wasn't as curvy as Rachel and she had long fingernails and grey eyes.

"Have you been here long? Do you know what happens next?" she said to me after finishing her meal.

"I'm totally clueless," I said. "My name's Malcolm."

She learned in towards me on the edge of her seat. "Hi Malcolm, I'm Jaime," she said.

A boy on the other side of the boxcar spoke up. "They might not expel you, you know," he said. "My brother was on academic probation and they let him study for an entire Earth year before they finally kicked him out."

"Wow, you're a progeny? That's pretty rare," said Jaime.

"Well, it hardly counts for much to be the second drop out in your family," said the boy. "Not that dropping out is so bad. The Institute almost always finds you a job remote monitoring water mine bots or working the network. My brother's been a remote viewing node for the interplanetary network for years."

"I didn't come all the way to Mars in order to do grunt work," said Jaime with an implied eye roll.

"I'm sure everything will work out fine," I said.

As I finished my sentence, two red haired men in black robes entered the box car from the opposite end than I entered it from. "Jaime Nottingham, it is time for your hearing," they said in creepy unison.

"Good luck," someone said. Jaime just walked towards the men in silence.

Each half hour, two different black robed individuals came and called on a student. I was the fourth student that was called. I was called upon by two older men with grey hair. One of them had olive colored skin.

The robed men led me down a short hallway and into a mag-lev train car that was the size of a Volkswagen bug. The train accelerated down the tracks and through two doors that were precisely timed to prevent great atmosphere loss without requiring the car to slow down much. I shielded my eyes from the Martian sun. I had seen nothing but artificial light for a long time.

The car was surrounded by bleak redness. There was a great red mountain behind us. The mountain was topped by a giant toppled spire.

The olive skinned man laughed. "I was also just thinking of the great space elevator disaster of Arsai Mons," he said. "It's quite the metaphor for your academic career, isn't it?"

"How so?" I said.

"Great hopes and great prospects. They came so close to reaching the sky until it all came tumbling down," he said.

He lectured to me about duty and destiny and the progress of mankind for the rest of the 550 mile trip. The other robed man sat in silent judgement. I think the trip only took an hour and a half and I barely bothered to get a word in edgewise.

The car slowed and the giant grey and blue dome that I learned was the Institute began to rise into view from beneath the red desert. The verbose robed man stopped speaking in mid-sentence in order to say to the other man, "I concur."

Finally, the other man spoke, "Malcolm Langley, you have been judged by this panel to be competent to return to school. You're very lucky that you originally tested so highly, since very few other students would be allowed readmittance after such failure. I have to admit, though, I was rather thrown when you started eating with your hands. That was quite rude."

"Okay, so now what?" I said as the car sped smoothly through another air lock.

"You and the other deprived ones have missed orientation, so you will be allowed to reenter the program during the next term. In the meantime, you will earn your stay as a network noder," said the darker skinned man.

The men handed me a small envelope and walked spryly out of the car and down the empty platform. The envelop contained a map, a foil card and instructions on how and when I would begin working as a network noder. The map led me to my dorm room.

The dorm hall reserved for probationary students was on the farthest possible edge of the campus away from the real dorms and classrooms. This meant it was quite close to the mag-lev train platform that I had started from. Actually, my residential hallway was merely a catwalk that was suspended over the train platform that I quickly learned was used for noisily loading and unloading cargo. Our dorm rooms were skyboxes that lined either side of the catwalk.

When I arrived, every dorm room door was shut except for my own and Jaime's. She lived two doors down. "Hey Malcolm, you made it," she said from the hallway as I inspected the interior of my room.

The room was already full of my possessions. Some of them I recognized from the spaceship and others I had never seen before.

"Malcolm, do you want to do some sumat?" said Jaime.

"Sumat?" I asked.

"You know, sumat? Immortal seed? See-see?" she said. "Well, at least you're too oblivious to be a narc. Are you in?"

"I'm not really in to that kind of stuff," I said.

"I see," she said. "Will you at least do me the favor of being my buddy?"

"Sure," I said.

"Great. I was going to be polite and offer to be your guide and let you do the first dose, but now you can guide me through this dose and I'll help you out sometime and be your buddy, okay," said Jaime. "You see, the secret here is that the faculty only monitors you when you're alone, so it's best to do restricted drugs and activities with a partner."

"That's good to know," I said. "What kinds of things aren't we allowed to do?"

"You know. It's the same as at the Institute on Earth. You're not allowed to drink, do drugs, eat red meat, masturbate, et cetera and the only way to be safe is to use a buddy," said Jaime.

Okay. I figured I could probably get pretty used to letting Jaime be my red meat and masturbation buddy.

"What do I have to do to guide you through the sumat?" I asked.

"Just watch me and make sure I don't do anything stupid," said Jaime. "And talk me down if I start to freak out."


Jaime's trip was almost uneventful. She took a pill that was hidden in her shoe sole and laid in my bed with her eyes open for the next two hours while I unpacked. Her eyes sometimes dashed back and forth as if she was experiencing REM sleep. At one point, she spoke. "Malcolm, Sara says `hi,' " said Jaime. I dropped the empty metal and plexiglass picture frame that I was holding, but I ignored the loud crash as I spun around to face Jaime.

"What?" I said, but Jaime was silent. Nothing I said seemed to affect her comatose state, so I uneasily went back to unpacking. I had finished unpacking all the small stuff. My clothing mostly resembled the type of things I wore in previous dimensions: button up shirts, khaki pants, boxers and socks, but I also owned several plain robes, which seemed to be the most common clothing worn around here. Everybody looked like they were going to a graduation and they had forgotten their mortar board. I also unpacked a lot of sanitary supplies, such as towels, soaps, bath sandals, and various brushes which I hoped I could eventually sort into the bathing, cleaning and tooth cleaning categories respectively.

I unpacked the largest box first. It contained a four foot tall, three inch thick stand that I recognized as similar to the computer that was built into my cabin on the ship. It was quite light, but I wondered why they'd bother shipping such a large computer all the way from Earth. Surely, the Martians could build their own computers or, at the very least, this society could have mastered the laptop. The computer's base was shaped like a skinny H and I recognized a similar fixture in the floor of my room. I placed the computer into the hole in the floor and it turned on with the sound of a short hum. The two halves of the chordic keyboard had to be pulled out from the sides of the box, but they could be slid up or down to any height along the stand. Come to think of it, the black stand vaguely resembled the monolith from 2001, except with smaller, skinnier dimensions.

I had just finished moving a chair next to the computer and sitting down when Jaime woke up. "Wow, that was a good one," she said.

"Are you okay?" I said. "You said something in your sleep. You said, `Sara says hi.' What does that mean?"

"I don't know," said Jaime. "You know how it goes. What you're seeing and what you're doing doesn't always correlate when you're projecting."

"It's just that I used to know a girl named Sara," I said.

"A girl named `Sara?' Huh. Her parents must have really wanted a boy. I couldn't imagine growing up with a boy's name," said Jaime. "Hey, thanks for being my buddy. Lemme know if you ever want me to return the favor."

"No problem," I said.

I helped Jaime stand up and she stumbled back to her room. It seemed like she was totally lucid now, but not yet in tune with controlling her body's movements.

I searched the Martian Guidonet, that was this dimension's name for a graphical internet, about the drug sumat. Actually, at first I spelled it wrong and I searched for "immortal seed," instead, but most of those pages were written by incomprehensible druggie fan boys. However, I learned from those pages how to spell the name correctly and I felt kind of dumb for not guessing the correct spelling sooner. A legitimate looking page taught me that sumat was a powerful hallucinogen which also acted like an amphetamine or a depressant depending on the individual's personal reaction. The drug was legal, but its use was restricted only to use by licensed professionals, the military and researchers. The jury was still out on its addictive effects, but mental addiction was quite common amongst its users.

I also found a page on the Astral Projectioneering Institute's site that had a request form for ordering the drug. Only faculty and final year students were allowed to possess or use the drug and the form's fine print made it quite clear that the consequences would be dire for anyone who helped break that rule.

The Institute's site also had a form for ordering your meals. I scheduled my dinner immediately and a breakfast for the next morning when I would be waking up to go to work. Twenty minutes later, two warm packets dropped out of the ceiling. One contained miscellaneous vegetables and the other contained plain brown rice and another disposable spife.

I slept for eight hours and I had a pleasant dream about playing basketball with my friends from Syracuse. Jonathan, Michael, Rachel, Andrew and my mom and dad were there, but I kept wondering when Sara would show up. I missed a rebound when I thought I saw her out of the corner of my eye, but it was just a cyan llama.

Freud once said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I think the same can be said about cyan, basketball playing llamas.

I was awakened by the sight of Jaime jumping up and down on the end of my bed. "Welcome back, sleepy head," she said as she climbed down onto the floor.

"Say, didn't I lock that door?" I asked.

"Hey, what's a picked lock between buddies?" said Jaime as one of the two breakfast packets I had ordered the previous night fell from the ceiling and hit her on the head. She started giggling uncontrollably and I had no choice but to follow her lead. Jaime went back to her room to get ready, but she wanted to walk to work together. I opened up my breakfast. One packet contained dried fruit and the other contained fried rice with lots of scrambled egg mixed into it.

I found the dorm showers at the far end of the catwalk, where the walkway passed seamlessly into a corridor in the wall. Below the catwalk, plain clothed men were noisily unloading cargo from a large freight train. I got dressed in the stall and walked straight to Jaime's room from the showers. I passed several laconic probation students of both sexes as I went down the catwalk, but Jaime's door was the only door that was open.

"Ready?" I said. "I just have to put my towel and stuff away and get my packet and I'm good."

Jaime's room was identical to mine, except her monolith computer was purple. She was reading something on her computer, but she logged off when I walked in. Her log off screen displayed a painting of Aphrodite.

"Is that from the Renaissance?" I said.

"Trey Renaissance? Who's that? You mean my computer screen? That's a painting by Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus," said Jaime. "He's my favorite artist from the First Golden Age."

"Cool," I said.

We went to my room and then we started to head towards the job site. Jaime and I were assigned different types of jobs. I was assigned to be a network noder and Jaime was working as a computer administrator.

"I don't know who to feel more sorry for," said Jaime. "You get the semi-prestigious job that's totally boring and monotonous and I get the remedial job where you don't do anything but watch a computer and hope it doesn't crash."

"I guess we should just both be happy that we weren't kicked out altogether," I said.

"What did you do to get academic probation, anyways?" said Jaime.

"I didn't turn in an essay," I said.

"Hot, holy excrement," exclaimed Jaime. "I knew from the rumor mill that I'd picked a rebel for a buddy, but I had no idea how bad you were."

Her tone had no hint of sarcasm. "Why, what did you do?" I asked.

"I accidentally cited the wrong page from one of my sources," she said.

The job site was located in a building that was on the edge of a stadium sized atrium that was full of green trees and shrubs. It was the only structure in the atrium that had no windows. "Well, I guess I'll see you later," said Jaime as we each followed signs that pointed towards our various departments.

I climbed a spiral staircase that led to a short corridor. Around the corner, a few other workers were lined up, so I stood in line, since it was short and someone was directing people where to go at the end of the line. At the front of the line, the corridor split in four directions. A man who was in plain clothes and who was wearing a headset pointed ahead and told me to go in door number nine.

Door number nine opened into a room that was only large enough to contain myself, a chair, a view screen and a chordic keyboard. As soon as I sat down, the orientation video started.

Network noders, it turns out, are this dimension's answer to the problem of interstellar latency. The average distance between the Earth and Mars is seventy-eight million, three hundred thousand kilometers. Light takes four minutes and twenty-one seconds to travel that distance. Actually, that lag time isn't so bad if you're sending a letter, except the real world processing time tends to come out to thirty minutes or so round trip. Also, that is not so bad, except the truly elite of this Universe don't like to send letters. They like to have instantaneous audio and video communications with each other.

Network noders are trained in the art of remote viewing, which isn't too different from what I do when I astrally leap. Noders portion out a section of their consciousness (the visual cortex, to be precise) and send it to back to Earth, where a tiny view screen displays packets of real-time information. The well-trained noder can chord in twenty characters per second. Digital characters in this dimension are ten bits long, so it only takes three or four noders to provide the same amount of bandwidth as a 56k modem provided on my world.

Noders, especially on Earth, receive communications from spaceships and distant colonies where noding is the only reasonable form of contact. All intersolar military vessels contain at least one network noder, who handles all of the ship's communications like an old-fashioned telegraph operator. Noded communications were believed to be totally secure from spying and they were always sent unencrypted, except I'm not quite sure what would prevent a spy from using remote viewing to steal your communications but, then again, I'm not a military strategist. On the other hand, I understand that It is awfully hard to purposely remotely view a location you're not familiar with. Special technology allows the operators to know where to look.

Jaime was right, this work was monotonous as hell. It took me half the day to learn where to remote view and to memorize all of the chords and their symbols, then I spent the rest of the day slowly passing packets. A well-trained noder can chord twenty characters per second but, as a newbie noder, I was chording maybe two or three. Eventually, the noding process would become a reflex.

After work, I didn't see Jaime, so I decided to explore the city and campus. Actually, it turns out that only non-probationary students and faculty are allowed on campus, so I ended up exploring the rest of the city. The city is more or less a geodesic dome with a one-mile diameter. The dome had several rings that defined various sections of the city. The outermost ring contained the train stations, fusion reactors, plastic processing plants, communications dishes and osmotic carbon dioxide filters, as well as, housing for the physical plant workers and probationary students. The middle ring contained many information services workers and businesses, but it was dominated by greenery that was genetically engineered to quickly and efficiently convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, but only when the environment reached a certain carbon dioxide saturation. At night, most sections of the middle ring would be closed off and the atriums would be flooded with incredibly bright artificial light that was powered by the fusion reactors, and filters would bring in Martian air while extracting the newly created O2 to send to other parts of the city. Just before the workers arrived at their desk jobs, robotic gardeners would sweep through each section and remove the carbon store in the form of leaves, stems and branches. The vegetation was also genetically designed so that its by-products could easily be converted to plastics, feed and other products that could be shipped and sold to less self-sufficient colonies. Poorer colonies relied on solar power, imported building materials and unenhanced plants for their survival.

The inner-circle of the city was reserved for the students, faculty and administration of the Helsinki Institute for Astral Projectioneering. According to the map, City Hall and the Administration shared the same building and many of the higher University administrators worked dual duty as city officials. The Dean of the Temporal Studies department was also the city's mayor. Several buildings in the campus weren't labeled on the map.

I eventually gave up on finding a way to enter the campus and I instead explored one of the six middle ring shopping pavilions. There wasn't much exciting new technology for sale here, mostly just more of the same kind of stuff I had brought with me and a food court. The food court sold various variations on the rice, pasta and chicken meals I'd already failed to enjoy. Many of the casually dressed middle ring workers had gathered here to politely socialize and I realized that I hadn't seen a single child since I'd landed on Mars. No wonder Mars was incredibly boring.

While I was walking alone, I had an idea. I could harmlessly section off a small part of my brain's quantum circuitry and devote it to the task of network noding. In fact, I could use minute quantum forces to trigger the electronic sensors on the chordic keyboard according to the symbols the circuit received. The map showed that the school also had a small, probably poorly funded department for telekinesis and what I planned to do could probably be considered a very subtle form of telekinesis. However, I don't think it's possible to rack up enough quantum force to influence sizable objects. You might be able to kill Schroedinger's cat while it's within the box, but you couldn't drop an anvil on it.

In other words, I could devise a neural circuit that would allow me to transfer the information stream at near instantaneous speeds. Frankly, I could give a quantumly suspended cat's ass about raising my noding quota, but it occurred to me that if I passed the stream fast enough, and without mental effort, I would receive larger pieces of the data to observe. Instead of viewing every hundredth character of the data in an utterly meaningless context, I could spy on almost all of it at once.

In fact, I should design the circuit so that it credits other quantum noders for the increased throughput, since I don't want anybody suspecting that I was listening in to their elitist conversations. I could pretty easily spread the extra packets out amongst my workgroup by tapping in to their keyboard signals as well.

When I returned to the dorm, Jaime's door was closed. I eagerly entered my room and began writing a training program on my computer that would create the requisite mental circuitry. The mental resources required to house this circuit were minimal, and I'd actually save mental space by streamlining a specially made circuit instead of letting one design itself and take up space as the noding process turned into a reflex. It would be a reflex either way, except when I sectioned it into a special circuit, it would give me room to multitask and remain having normal thoughts in my unsectioned consciousness.

By the next morning, I had finished writing the training program and I even managed to find a few hours to sleep. I would begin training after work today and I'd spend the day working and overlooking the noding system to double check my design. I was slightly disappointed that Jaime hadn't visited me again.

I was one of the first people up in the morning. I'd only gotten enough sleep to have one REM session, but it was a stark one. I'd dreamt that I was standing in my childhood bedroom and Ribeiro was threatening me with a knife. I removed a piece of my tubular, metal bed frame and I used it to parry Ribeiro's stabs. I ran into my parents' room and I held shut the door behind me, but Ribeiro was stabbing through the flimsy processed woodgrain. My mother was sleeping in her bed and refused to allow me to wake her. Ribeiro pushed down the door.

I caught his wrist with my hand during one of his stabs. My mother still refused to be bothered. After much back and forth, I out muscled Ribeiro enough that I managed to shove the knife through his throat and out the back of his neck. His spinal column should have been severed, but he stumbled to the ground and continued to fight back. I wasn't sure if he had really wanted to kill me, or if he was just playing around until the end. My mom shifted in the bed and went back to sleep.

"Father," I said to Ribeiro. "I'm sorry."

I awoke saddened, disturbed, but refreshed. The meal packets hadn't arrived yet, so I went straight to the showers. Only one other stall was being used, it was Jaime and she emerged from the shower as soon as I entered the room. She was wearing a white towel around her waist, and her glistening, well-crafted boobage was quite visible. The months spent on the spaceship meant that she had no tan lines nor any tan to speak of. She was a wonderful, delicate, firm, warm thing, but I didn't want to notice it at the time. She wasn't Sara and she was probably a drug addict.

Nevertheless, that was the first time I saw breasts that weren't in a movie, a magazine or a computer screen. One was slightly larger than the other, which was a phenomenon I was not yet aware of and that didn't bother me in the slightest.

"Hey buddy," she said.

"Hi," I said while trying desperately to look her in the eyes while wanting even more desperately not to. "I didn't know these were co-ed showers."

"They're not," said Jaime. "The Institute is depriving the girls of warm water since some girl got caught masturbating in the shower. She should have used a buddy."

Jaime put on the rest of her robe that was sitting on the counter. "See you later, alligator," she said.

You know, a cold shower wasn't such a bad idea. This place scared the shit out of me. I had no idea what social conventions were in effect in this dimension and which weren't and which were brand spanking new.

I stayed because this place was also intriguing.

I showered, returned to my room and ate. I left my door open, hoping that Jaime would stop by so we could walk to work again together. She came by just as I had given up and we left together.

"Hey, I missed you yesterday," said Jaime. "You're not going to disappear again tonight, are you? Because if that's the case I'll have to find another buddy."

"I'll be here," I said.

"Great. This place is so, so, so boring," she said.

Jaime told me about what a crappy job she's been stuck with as we walked the rest of the distance. The foliage of the atrium was totally different today.

One thing I remembered as I entered my cubical was that I needed to find a way to increase my character speed covertly on the Earth side of the link. Luckily, it turned out that I had an acquaintance or two that I'd left on Earth. Andrew's doppleganger was a network supervisor in Finland, so I sent him a message over the standard, slow link. I encrypted the message and I used steganography to hide the message in a 3D panoramic postcard of the space elevator wreckage of Arsai Mons.

Every other day, network noders are allocated a twenty minute break that they can use or save up. I used mine today to visit Jaime. She worked in a cubicle much like mine, except it had no ceiling and she had several view screens with gave views and statistics of all of the satellites, satellite dishes and computer banks that she was monitoring. She also had a window up that was displaying my workgroup's output.

"Oh thank god," said Jaime. "I really needed a visitor right now."

"It's that bad, huh?" I said.

The administrator's section had skylights that allowed the sun to shine down into the various workspaces. Jaime had opened up the top of her robe, due to the heat.

"I need a favor," I said.

"That's what I'm here for," said Jaime.

I told her to send Andrew a vague message on the secure, real-time administrators' text messaging system that would clue him in to how to unencrypt my message.

"Shady dealings, no doubt," said Jaime. "You know, I'm not authorized to do this."

"Yeah?" I said, suddenly wary of my new friend.

She smiled, winked, turned around, chorded out the message and said, "I'm glad you found a favor for me to do for you. Now we really are friends and not just buddies."

"What do you mean?" I said.

"You never really know if someone is your friend until they need you," she said. "Now we need each other. We each know a dirty little secret from the other one. The scale is balanced."

"You still don't know what my message is about," I said.

"That's okay," she said.

"Thank you," I said. "I guess I'll see you after work."

"See-see ya later, handsome," said Jaime.

I was suddenly very happy with myself, but I didn't feel content. None of this would matter once I leaped and I didn't really care for it to.

After work, Jaime and I returned to my room where she did a dose of sumat. Her hands were actually trembling as she extracted the pill from the sole of her shoe.

"I bet you're wondering how I got this stuff through the preflight interrogation?" said Jaime as I carefully watched her ingest the hallucinogenic agent. "Well, a girl's got to have her secrets."

While Jaime was enjoying her altered state, I initiated my first training session. The computer had a neural sensor built into it that could give me feedback without an implant. After half an hour, Jaime sat up and started to cry. Her eyes were shut.

I sat down next to her and put my arm around her. "It's okay. You're safe here," I said. I brushed her hair out of her face with my fingers.

"No! I don't like that. Don't touch me there," she whispered, then she opened her eyes and they were darting back and forth in a trance state. She laid back down.

"Stop. Okay. Just don't hurt me," she said faintly. I knelt by the side of the bed and watched her. I felt like there was an empty room in my chest and the walls were slowly closing in. Jaime really awoke twenty minutes later.

"That was an intense one," she said. "Did I scream or something? You look worried."

"No. You're okay?" I asked.

"Yeah. Are you sure that you don't want to do a hit?"

"No thanks," I said. Jaime returned to her room just as I received Andrew's reply to my message. It was unencrypted and it told me that everybody on Earth is missing me and that Sinead is pregnant and that he hopes I can get off academic probation as soon as possible. There was a post sincere, where he said, "No problem."

I returned to my meditation and training and I only paused when three dinner packets dropped behind my head. I had most of the circuitry mapped out by the time I went to bed, but it would take another day's worth of preparation before it was ready.

I thought about Sara while I was lying in bed. I missed her a lot and I'd been missing her ever since I left my home dimension. I wished I'd been able to explain to her why I was doing what I was doing and I worried about what my doppleganger might be up to or if my body had entered a lifeless coma. None of that should have mattered to me anymore.

Until I met Jaime on Mars, Sara was the only girl that ever paid attention to me. I mean, she didn't like me in the way I that liked her, but she was my friend and she always listened to me, even when I was rambling. For a long time I thought things would be better if I found another girl, but I never put any effort into it, since it seemed pointless. There are two things that most girls want out of a man: wealth and cocksureness. The great thing is that both of these qualities are the defining elements of a skilled con-artist. Sure, every so often there's a wealthy, confident man who's also a good man. Ribeiro was that kind of man, for instance.

I've been criticized for not being confident enough and I've been criticized for being too arrogant. It's a stupid double standard. However, I think it's possible that I manage to alienate the ones who say I'm not confident enough with my lack of self-esteem, so I get stuck with people I don't really respect and then I treat them with arrogance. Except for Sara, since she seemed to stay with me despite my self-hatred and I always saw her as my equal, or, perhaps, my superior. But I eventually abandoned her, too. Actually, I think she abandoned me first.

I thought that confidence was a resource, and that almost everybody else had an endless well that they could draw from. For me, it was a grain that I had to harvest and store in case of drought. There was a long, long drought.

Eventually, you just have to pack up and move to more fertile lands. At least, that's what I thought when I went to sleep that evening.

Jaime wasn't very talkative as we walked to work the next day. She seemed a little depressed, in fact, but maybe she was just tired from having to work. Her voice was low, and less joyfully childish than usual.

"Are you sick of these bland meals yet?" she asked.

"Absolutely," I said.

"Great. Transfer 30 credits to my account and I'll set us up the steak tonight?" she said.

"Sounds like a plan," I said.

"Damn straight," said Jaime.

"Take off every zig!" I exclaimed.


"Nothing. Inside joke. Never mind," I said.

It just occurred to me that I'd see this woman's naked upper torso. Wow.

For the longest time, our society's obsession with the breast fetish bothered me. Sometimes I just feel like I'm in the Hesse novel Steppenwolf. The man in me wants to accept society's quirks and the wolf in me wants to tear them a new asshole for treating each other like disposable playthings. Or is it the man that wants to fight society and the animal in me that wants to look at breasts? Nevertheless, I'm not sure it matters. Just because aesthetic beauty is fleeting and vapid, that doesn't mean that you should shun it.

The key is to find all breasts beautiful, or at least to appreciate as many different kinds as possible. Certainly, that's why I scoured the Internet newsgroups at home looking for all kinds of different girls to observe. On the other hand, there is a fairly important societal, ethical and evolutionary reason to only find large breasts attractive, since curves are what separates the jailbait from the centerfolds.

Jaime had the curves alright. Damn, I wish the man and the wolf could get along.

I gave Jaime a friendly hug when we reached the office. "Sorry, you looked depressed," I said.

"Wow, thanks," she said. She seemed a little taken aback, but better.

I felt proud for being a good friend until I remembered the secondary reason why I wanted to touch her.

And the primary reason didn't even matter. I couldn't be a good friend to her, because I planned to be leaving as soon as I had this place figured out.

The workday passed incredibly slowly. It was painful, but I took solace in the fact that tomorrow I'd be able to occupy my mind with the secret dealings of the school's administration instead of having to dedicate the largest fraction of my mindshare towards pulling digits through the ether. I transferred 30 credits to Jaime's account.

She wasn't waiting for me when I got off work, so I went straight to my dorm room and I went ahead with my training.

"Whatcha doin'?" said Jaime when she picked the lock on my door an hour later. She was holding two large foil food packets in one hand.

"I'm meditating on this training pattern in order to make the network noding go by a little easier," I said.

"Huh, yeah, your chording score has totally sucked," said Jaime. "Most of the other newbies are way ahead of you."

"Well, I don't really care about my score. This is just a piece of the extracurricular I'm working on," I said.

"Oh, say no more. I'd probably crack and tell them under torture," she said with an understanding wink. "Seriously, if you need help with anything, I'm here for you."

"And I'm here for you. A wise woman told me that that's how new friendships work," I said.

Jaime's food packets each contained a medium-cooked sirloin and a sliced baked potato with strips of bacon between the slices and sour cream on top. The tastiest part of the meal was the company. Jaime was once again in a perky mood and she told me a few funny stories about her friends on Earth.

After the meal, Jaime took her dose of sumat and I returned to training. When Jaime woke two hours later, she said, "Let's see, we've checked restricted drugs and red meat off the list, all that's left now is alcohol and masturbation."

"Well, I guess I know what I'll be doing tomorrow night," I joked.

"Are you kidding? Alcohol, I can find, but do you know how hard it is to smuggle lube into this rust bucket?" she said.

"Who needs lube?" Suddenly it hit me what we were talking about and I started to feel incredibly uncomfortable. "I'm going to go to bed," I said.

Jaime left and I went back to training. I finished with enough time left to get a nearly full night's sleep. I must have had a wet dream, but I didn't remember it.

When I awoke, I panicked that Jaime might break into my room and see the mess I made. I pushed a chair in front of the door while I stood at the computer and ordered an early laundry service. A hole opened in the wall and I dropped my sheets and shorts down it.

I went to the shower before eating my breakfast. I ended up thinking about Jaime's breasts again on the way to work. It's nice to know that I'm not the only human being who has boobs on their mind. Feminist archeologists believe that an ancient man-made mound is a monument to women's life giving breasts. I say, what else is a mound going to look like?

Jaime was in a better mood today. She talked about what she wants to study when she can return to school. She wanted to major in intradimensional criminal espionage, so she could stop having to hide from The Man.

"Destroying the Master's house with the Master's tools, you mean?" I said.

"No, more like moving in and sucking the Master's cock while stealing his good China," said Jaime impishly.

"I'd also like to be a remote viewing detective so I could be personally responsible for the castration of the world's child abusers," she said less impishly.

I was very excited as I entered my workspace. I could finally field test my latest mental circuitry, as well as, learn a few of this dimension's secrets.

I cranked the circuitry up to one-hundred thousand characters per minute and siphoned the datastream into my viewer. The back of my mind felt a little fuzzy, but I could keep my awareness focused on the present by concentrating on the screen in front of me. It displayed all of the Institute's current data sessions and they were ranked in order of thread priority. Most of the conversations were cryptically monotonous. There was a lot of bureaucratic cruft regarding research grants, withheld alumni taxes and tenure denials.

The most interesting call of the day was a video transmission between the Helsinki, Mars mayor and a man in an important looking military uniform.

"Have any of your mental tracking teams been able to find the lost crewmen?" said the military man.

"I'm afraid it's looking like the ship might be a total loss," said Mayor Mcdonnell.

"That's unfortunate. You know how important Project Tesseract is to national security," said the man in the uniform.

"Yes. It is unfortunate for the families, as well," said the mayor.

"Have you at least narrowed down the location of the lost ship to a particular dimension or to this dimension?"

"No. We believe that the ship may have been fractured and sent to any number of locations. Perhaps quark by quark."

"This is bad news for the viability for tesseract technology. It'll be hard to convince the counsel to continue after this loss."

"Yes. Someone's going to have to take the fall for this one, and it sure as hell isn't going to be me," said the mayor.

"Well, we've still got the second experimental tesseracting vessel, the SSS Olympic. I think the counsel will at least support a second try, as long as we crew it with expendable men," said the uniform.

"Ha. That won't be hard," said Mayor Mcdonnell.

"Okay, thanks for the update," said the military man. "I guess it's time to dig up a palatable story to tell the families, but let me know as soon as anything changes so I don't go saying something too soon. I'd hate to end up being the scapegoat on this one, as well."

"You mean you aren't just going to wipe their minds this time?" joked the Mayor.

"Oh for God's sake, how many generations are going to have to pass before we military guys stop getting labeled as holocaust revisionists by you academics?" said the uniform.

"Well, you could just wipe all our minds," said Mcdonnell. "Unfortunately, that won't change the fact that we're all still being judged."

"Don't think I haven't thought about wiping all your robie minds. In the meantime, you just worry about new technology. I'm the one that has to worry about holding back the IDPD's judgements. Talk to you later, Bob," said the military man.

"See ya, Joey," said Mayor-slash-Dean Bob Mcdonnell.

After work, Jaime and I went back to my room and we watched Jaime's favorite television show on my computer screen. If I had to describe it, I would say it was a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Red Dwarf. Jaime said it was the only television show worth watching, because it was the only show with realistic characterizations. The heroine was a vain cat woman who liked fancy clothes and killing the undead. She traveled the solar system in a huge, haunted spaceship with her close band of best friends and family. The leading male was a total asshole but girls like Jaime found him totally dreamy, even though it was quite clear that the show's writers meant for him to be a purely evil character.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the only television show on Earth that could evoke deep emotions from me. A lot of the time, the characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer seemed more real to me than people I knew in real life. After knowing them for a few weeks, I could boil just about anybody down to their underlying archetype. Jaime obviously had a horrible, almost certainly abusive, father and now she's trapped in the mindset that she has to always seek masculine approval. The only mystery that still lay around her persona was why she would appear to be interested in a guy like me. Usually people like her seek out abusive boyfriends so they can reenact their relationship with their father. They try to fix these guys, so that the father reenactment will have a happy ending this time around, but it never does. I guess sometimes the Jaimes of the Multiverse seek refuge with a harmless guy, but I'm not sure if that's the case here. She did, after all, hear rumors that I was a rabble rouser here. Of course, it's not too hard to rouse the rabble in this Universe.

Sara was the only person I've ever known that defied classification. She gave me hope that people were more than just automatons. Hope that the automatons could surpass the contradictory programming of their primal urges, societal constraints and childhood traumas. Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation wanted to become human. I wanted more than that. I wanted Sara.

The final scene of the television show consisted of the leading male and female characters lying half naked on a metal mattress frame after having much of their clothes torn off in a fight. Two evil demons sauntered up to the door and the smaller one swallowed it whole. The screen flashed a "To Be Continued..." message. It was all pretty lame.

"`eh, I'm sorry, that episode wasn't a very good one," said Jaime. "I promise it's usually better than that."

"That's okay, I believe you," I said.

It was around this time last night that Jaime and I talked about what was left to do after we tried restricted drugs and red meat. I couldn't get the thought out of my mind that Jaime's aura of promiscuity was a result of her childhood. Admiring her breasts was one thing, but taking her up on the unspoken offer to fondle them was quite another. I felt a tinge of the feeling I felt while I had somebody else's post traumatic stress disorder in Seattle. I felt a guilt that was not mine to feel.

"No sumat tonight?" I asked.

"I know, it sucks, but I'm out," said Jaime. "It's a good thing that stuff doesn't give you the delirium tremens, or I'd be totally screwed."

"It's probably not cool for me to point this out, but it really scares me when you do that stuff," I said. "Last night you seemed really upset during your trance."

"Yeah. You should try it sometime, and then you'd understand why that doesn't matter," said Jaime. "Anyways, I should go."

"Good night," I said, and I stepped forward to pat her on the shoulder, but she was gone before I could reach her.

I ended up watching more television after Jaime had left. There was one intriguing, interactive dating show where dates were selected, and afterwards judged, by dead relatives and friends who were channelled by psychic seance. One young lady was absolutely mortified to hear that her long-dead great aunt had done that exact same thing in a hot tub with her long-dead great uncle. It was totally bogus.

Almost all of the upper channels were occupied with various sports, sports scores and sports trivia. There was a Three's Company style sitcom where a straight guy had to pretend he was gay so that he could continue to live with his unwitting gay roommates. I flipped past a news broadcast where I recognized the current speaker to be the military guy from earlier today, so I went back to view that feed.

The caption under his face read, "Fleet Commander Joseph Romano." In the upper-right hand corner of the screen there was a repeating animation of a bullet-shaped spaceship exploding violently above the red spot of Jupiter as the words "The SSS Coldare Bombing" floated above the looping graphic.

"We have every reason to believe that the explosion on the SSS Coldare was the result of interplanetary terrorism," said the military man. "In fact, we've already detained and begun interrogating many of the family members of suspected associates of the Mind-Space Liberation Front, since this act quite intimately bears that group's evil signature. Remote Temporal Viewing experts experienced more than enough evidence prior to the past information decay point in order to testify and bring justice to the 257 brave souls who were aboard our next generation light cruiser during its unarmed, maiden voyage."

"Furthermore, a military tribunal will be investigating Admiral O'Reilly's negligence in allowing a newly commissioned ship to leave port unprotected."

I found the entire situation to be incredibly boring. If I wanted to hear about corrupt politicians, elitist, warp minded military leaders, and rigged trials, I could have stayed at home. I was slightly curious about the tesseract technology that he mentioned earlier, but it became obvious that that tech was on the down low.

The next day, Jaime's voice caught me by surprise as it wafted up with the stream from the shower stall next door. "Hey Malcolm, if you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?" she said.

"Oh. Hi. I don't know. I really want to get on campus," I said.

"That's boring answer," replied Jaime.

"Well, I want to see some of the restricted authorization zones," I said.

"Still boring..." said Jaime jokingly.

"Okay, what do people usually respond to this particular hypothetical question?" I said.

"You know. Some people wish they were home. Some people would like to be on a tropical beach. Some people would like to be cuddled up with their honey next to a warm fire in an isolated mountain cabin. Some people would like to be on a zero-g hedonism cruise through the rings of Saturn," said Jaime.

"Okay, fine, I'll take the fire-cuddling answer," I said. "And you?"

"I'll have to think about that," said Jaime. "Ask again later."

"What are you, a Magic Eight Ball?" I said.

"What?" said Jaime.

"Nothing," I said as I dried off and put on my clothes without leaving my stall. "See you in a few minutes?"


On the walk to work, I asked Jaime if she knew anything about tesseract technology, but all she knew was that it was purely theoretical. Only conspiracy theorists and mad professors thought it was possible and only the former thought that any technological progress was being made with the idea. "I don't buy this whole, you can bend space to your will deal," said Jaime. "Fate doesn't like to have her plans fucked with."

The vegetation in the atrium was particularly thick today. Jaime caught me by the shoulders as I tripped over a giant vine. "The robogardeners must have slept in late this morning," said Jaime. Human physical plant workers were busy trimming back the foliage and sorting it into bins.

"Speaking of slackers, your group's output really picked up yesterday," said Jaime. "You're going to look bad if you don't start meeting your quota soon."

"Well, haven't my numbers been improving?"

"Oh, definitely, but you're still the slowest. Rank matters more than improvement here, you know," she said.

I guess I must have cared how Jaime viewed me, because I tweaked my mental algorithm in order to give my score a bigger piece of the credit as soon as I reached my cubicle.

The most interesting correspondence that I tapped into that day was a lecture that was teleconferenced between the Mars Institute and the branch of the school for Astral Projectioneering that was located on the dark side of the Earth's Moon.

The lecturer demonstrated the Mars Institute's newest toy. It was a holographic map of the known Multiverse.

"Ever since the beginnings of the astral sciences, quantum explorers have wandered willy-nilly through the Astral Planes, and they most usually stumbled on boring, empty dimensions that were full of incomprehensible and useless realities. Today, the Mars Institute alone has over 150 dedicated scientists conducting an exhaustive breadth-first search of the closest major nodes in the Multiverse tree."

"In fact, our map of the known Multiverse already contains detailed information on over seven hundred and fifty thousand nodes, which has provided us with invaluable data regarding the structure of the local Multiverse group. The benefits of this project speak for themselves, but the practicalists in the audience might be interested to know that the Chaos Theory boys are hard at work using our data to help break down the L'Engle Barrier."

One such practicalist spoke up with a question, "Do you mean to say that you believe that you're close to making tesseracting a reality?"

"Oh no, nothing quite that dramatic, I'm afraid," said the lecturer. "However, we have had some success in actually affecting small physical manifestations in alternate realities. Sending an intact physical body to another dimension or instantaneously across space-time? Personally, I think that's science fiction hogwash."

The lecturer proceeded to discuss the methods used by the Multiverse mapping team. Most of their progress had been made after the discovery of Sumat Omega, which was a derivative of the sumat drug that allowed clearer-headed and better directed astral travel. I was quite amused that this seemingly advanced society had failed to grasp the fundamental rules of mental discipline and quantum circuitry design that I had invented all by myself in order to enact astral travel. I couldn't physically travel across dimensions, but swapping minds with your doppleganger is the next best thing.

On the other hand, I absolutely had to get a look at this map. All this time I had been travelling to new dimensions blindly. I'm lucky that my experience hasn't been all that bad. It's not inconceivable that I could end up leaping into a version of me that was on his literal death bed. That would suck. More importantly, I could find the version of Sara that I so desperately needed, because she would be needing me. If I had that map, there would be no way I could lose her again.

At the end of the lecture, one of the attendants asked the question that was now haunting my mind, he said, "Are there any plans to release the map to the public?"

"No, unfortunately this information is restricted to the researchers and the militarists only. Obviously, some of the derivatives of this knowledge could be very dangerous in the hands of our enemies. However, you did remind of me another virtuous advance that the map is helping us create."

"We have found several of the home dimensions of the extrauniversial agents who are aiding the Mind-Space Liberation Front by giving them mental blocking technology and we've been able to turn their own tricks against them by permanently severing those links to our world. Very soon the MSLF will no longer be able to dangerously interrupt the network noding and surveillance operations on the distant Jupiter moon colonies and they will no longer have anywhere left to hide and plot their acts of terror."

"As long as we keep our funding, the Institute for Astral Projectioneering will be able to continue to provide this valuable service in the name of Solar democracy. God bless you and God bless our progress and thank you for listening," said the speaker as he wrapped up his speech. The audience fervently, yet graciously, applauded.

There was also a short conversation between Mayor Mcdonnell and Fleet Commander Joey Romano. They discussed the possibility of launching Admiral O'Reilly into the Sun as execution.

"That'd be a good one, I never liked that guy either," said Bob Mcdonnell. "He was always making trouble and shooting off his mouth, but do you really think he'll get an execution?"

"It's not like we have a choice. He's not agreeing to cooperate, so he's a liability. We'll just associate him with the terrorists. The people'll buy it," said Joey.

"This could be fun," said the Mayor. "There hasn't been a military conflagration execution since I was kid."

Once again, Jaime visited me in my dorm room after work. She had just returned from meeting her dealer and procuring more sumat and she was eager to do another dose. "Oh, by the way, I thought of the place I'd most like to be," she said while sitting cross-legged on my bed. "There's a supervised playground near where I grew up in Boston. I'd like to be on the swing set. I always felt safe there."

"That is a good answer," I replied.

"Well, my boring answer is that I like to be here with you. You make me feel safe, too," said Jaime.

It wasn't fair that she could say such wonderful, hopeful things to me and then disappear into a drug-induced psychic coma.

Fifteen minutes into Jaime's trip, she began thrashing around violently. Her head was about to crash into the wall when I grabbed her and held her down. She scratched at me with her unwieldy, inch-long fingernails and large strips of my shirt began to weep blood. With great adrenaline and amphetamine induced effort, she tossed me off the bed and scrambled out the door. I pursued her as I concentrated greatly on ignoring the physical and emotional pain that I was being overtaken by.

Jaime led me down one of the meg-lev tunnels that headed towards the inner circle as I raced after her. I hoped against hope that a train wasn't coming, but if one did, we'd probably be dead before I could see or hear it. In the distance, I could hear Jaime babbling to herself.

I caught up with Jaime where she had sat down and started picking at her clothes. We were near the end of the tunnel and I could see that it led into one of the largest middle ring atriums in the city. I shuffled Jaime to the side of the tracks.

"This suit won't protect. I'm not cohesive," Jaime said with a distant voice. "Socratic Method is the game show where everybody wins!"

"It's okay. I'm here. You're safe now," I said as calmly as I could manage.

"You're bleeding," said Jaime with a hint of cogency. "We must escape away. Away from the red. Get away from the red, this place isn't safe. The storm will swallow us and dissect us. Bisect us. Trisect us."

"A thing can be infinitely divided, you know. Like the wolf," said Jaime, who was now staring intently at my knee.

She grabbed my crotch and squeezed painfully. "But you're a man," she said with great anger. An anguished, tittering moan escaped my throat and a siren sounded as Jaime let go and I fell backwards. A red light spun around above my head and I guessed correctly that the airlock between the atrium and the outer ring was closing for the nightly oxygen renewal. We would be trapped inside the airlock all night if we didn't move immediately. I pulled at Jaime's arms, but she resisted.

"Escape, yes, we must escape. This ship is a death trap. We must escape the red," said Jaime.

"But your shirt is red. You are a red shirt and I am a hat. Wear me on your head," said Jaime commandingly and then she punched me across the jaw. "You won't wear me? I hate you. You will suffocate."

"We can't escape. It's too late. No, we must be brave and die like the patriots died," Jaime continued her discourse as the airlock walls slowly fell to either side of us. "But we have to escape! This ship is a death trap! They all know it will kill us and I can not accept that."

"This can not be my coffin. I can not fit inside a coffin. Not anymore." The tunnel had gone completely dark and a persistent whistling sound could be heard from the door on the atrium's side.

"But I can fit inside you like I fit inside her and like you would like to fit inside her but you can't," said Jaime, who was much calmer now. She began to sing a song.

"I am the stapler, bookends." Her voice resonated throughout the airlock tunnel. It varied between being very pretty and very powerful. "I'll keep on stapling dolphin fins."

"I am the stapler! I am the stapler! No time for hookers, for I am the stapler, of the world!" Okay, that song sounded really familiar.

"You know, you're no Joey Romano," said Jaime, flirtingly. Now I'm sure that was a Sleater-Kinney lyric.

I didn't have any idea of how this airlock worked. What if the atrium door opened up before the room was oxygenated? What if the robot gardener convoy drove through and squashed us against the tunnel wall? Is there enough air in here to last the night, or will we suffocate on our own emissions? I couldn't believe my bravery when I chased Jaime here. A question that began haunting me as a child was whether I was capable of sacrificing my life to save others. I worried that I would be asked to push a button, and if I pushed the button, the world would be saved but I would die. I was scared that I would push the button and I was scared that I wouldn't.

Of course, what I most fear and believe is most probable, is that death is an end to everything. The idea of eternal nonexistence has always scared the crap out of me. It's not actually the nonexistence part that really bothers me. It's the eternal part that I fear, since I wouldn't really care for eternal immortality, either.

The Christian ideal of death also bothers me. They say that once you die, there is no possibility for change. You have either done good and get to spend eternity with God, or you have done bad and you have to spend eternity alone. Either way, you're stuck as the person you were when you died. I used to wonder if heaven wasn't just a big dark room full of happy gas. Without change, it might as well be.

On the other hand, I absolutely abhor change, since it never favors me. It didn't favor me when Sara went to Spain and met Ribeiro and she came back an entirely different, but still fabulous, person. I also wanted to be a different person for her, but I didn't want to have to kill the present me and it didn't matter anyways since even the best version of me couldn't win her away from Ribeiro.

"Guilt is a type of innocence. Like the wolf," said Jaime suddenly, interrupting my introspection. "Woof, woof, woof!"

Maybe people are always changing. Maybe death doesn't matter because each person dies infinite deaths. I'm not sure if I found that thought comforting or disturbing, but I was happy because Jaime was asleep and I felt her cheek and I found that she had a tiny smile on her face.

I laid next to her for many hours while I pondered the darkness with contentment.

Eventually, Jaime awoke. "Where am I? What's going on?" she said with a quickened, panicked tone.

"It's okay. You had a bad trip and I followed you here to keep you safe," I said. "I think the air lock doors will open shortly and then we can go home."

"Oh Malcolm," said Jaime as she nestled her head in my shoulder. "I'm so sorry."

She felt the dried blood streaks on my chest with her hand. I winced a little. "Did I hurt you? Oh God, are you okay?" she said.

"I'm fine," I said. "I'm just glad you're better now." I was glad about that.

"I scratched you, before? Didn't I?" said Jaime. "You'll never forgive me."

"Of course I forgive you," I said and I did.

We laid silently for several minutes. "I can repay you," she whispered in my ear with a faux sultry tone. She brushed her lips down my cheek and its stubble. She nibbled on my lower lip. I didn't move. She opened my lips with her lips and massaged my tongue with her tongue.

She ran her hand up my thigh, but all I could remember was the pain she caused the last time her hands were there. Nevertheless, the largest part of me still wanted this to happen.

The only thing that happened was that the airlock doors finally opened. And no, that is not a euphemism. "We have to get out of here," I said. I was relieved for this pre-coitus interruption.

Jaime was aware of an access door that exited the tunnel just beyond the inner airlock seal. It led to a small tunnel that we could walk single-file through and that paralleled the train tunnel. I walked in front and Jaime grabbed my butt.

"This place works, too," she said with a coy tone.

"I don't think I can do that now," I turned and said to her after a moment.

"I need to help you now. That's what buddies do for each other," said Jaime.

"Actually, I have another favor that I need from you," I said.

She was disappointed, but she hid it well. "Anything," was her reply.

As I suspected, Jaime was an adept urban explorer and she had even accompanied her dealer into the inner circle once in order to procure a new supply of sumat from the poorly secured university vaults.

"They actually expect students to steal a few doses here and there. They just don't want the proletariat to get their grubby little paws on it," explained Jaime. "Nevertheless, I don't suspect that what you're proposing will be much more difficult."

"How will we know which building the map room is even in?" I asked.

"It's not exactly a well guarded secret. I'll ask around the underground. The only pressing question for me is why you want to go to the map room. Hey, are you a rebel spy?" said Jaime.

"Nope. I'm afraid this is just a personal project," I said.

"Too bad. That would have been hella sexy," she said.

"Yeah," I said with a purposeful hint of distance.

"So what really is your story? Can you tell me?" said Jaime.

"It's a long one. Are you sure you're interested?" I said. I couldn't think of a good reason not to tell her. I was also suddenly eager to talk about Sara again.

"We're in a long tunnel. Go for it," said Jaime.

"Well, I could fill half a novel with my exploits, but I'll try to make it short," I said. "Jaime, the mind is like a Field Programmable Quantum Gate Array."

The first thing I did was tell Jaime about the technology I'd invented. I couldn't see her face as we walked, but I got the impression that she was very fascinated with the idea that a person could deliberately tweak their own mind in order to do a purposeful task, such as I had done with the quantum leaping circuit.

"Wait, are you implying to me that you're an interdimensional traveller?" asked Jaime. "I thought you agreed with me that tesseracting was impossible."

"I don't physically step into another dimension," I explained. "I move my mind there and I inhabit the body of one of my dopplegangers who has also moved to another dimension."

"So, you're a body stealer," said Jaime.

"Body stealer?" I asked.

"There's a theory that the reason people sometimes freak out like I did last night is because there are powerful, or just confused, beings that wander the astral planes and they sometimes take temporary refuge in another's body," said Jaime.

"And you risk losing your body just for some cheap thrill?" I said.

"Well, I don't know why you gave up your body in order to travel across the astral planes, but yeah, that's pretty much the deal," said Jaime. "Except I don't particularly believe in it."

"Well, you did seem very not-yourself. You had a real Cassandra, Mad Prophetess of Troy, vibe about you, actually," I said.

"Yeah, Apollo really played her, didn't he? Kind of like you're playing me, right now," said Jaime.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing," said Jaime as we arrived at my dorm room. "Tell me the rest of your story."

"Shouldn't we be going to work?" I said.

"They won't miss us," said Jaime. I shrugged. "Your society must be very advanced to be able to send you here," she said.

"Actually, we haven't gone much farther than the moon. We still burn coal and oil for most of our fuel," I said.

"Sounds like a pretty grimy, backwards place," said Jaime. I started to get the impression that she was just humoring me.

"Yeah, but it was home. There was a girl there, Sara, and that's why I left," I said.

Jaime perked up at my mention of this. "Did she dump you?" she said. "I bet you took her on a moon vacation and then she dumped you."

"Actually, no, my society hasn't put a person on the Moon since the 1970s. And, no on the other thing, since I never dated Sara. I loved her from afar and she wasn't available to me because she had another boyfriend so I decided to find another her."

"A doubleganger?" said Jaime. She made it sound dirty.

"Yeah, I wanted to find Sara's doppleganger so I could start anew and not make the same mistakes," I said. "That's why I need to see the map room, because that's how I can kind the right dimension."

"Well, you know, I don't believe anything you just told me," said Jaime. "But it's okay, because of all the pathological liars I've ever met, you're definitely the sweetest."

"Thanks, I guess, for that back handed compliment," I said.

"No problemo," said Jaime and she leaned in to kiss me on the cheek. "I'm going to want to hear more of this tale of empowerment and woe after work, but ta ta for now."

"See ya."

I didn't bother to take a shower, but I changed my clothes and cleaned my wounds with some antiseptic that I found in one of my bags. Jaime had already left for work when I was done. I was twenty minutes late showing up at my station, but it didn't particularly matter as long as I exceeded my quota by the end of the day, which would be a really easy thing to do since my mental circuitry did all the work for me. In fact, I slept throughout most of my shift.

I dreamt in binary.

I was awakened near the middle of my shift by a noder supervisor who was wearing a headset and a black robed gentleman as they opened the door to my cubicle.

"We're checking on you because the biohazard bot that cleaned up some blood outside your dorm reported that the blood sample matched your DNA," said the black robed man who was wearing a platinum bar on his left shoulder that denoted that he was a campus security official. "Do you have any complaints or confessions you would like to submit?"

"No, it was an accident. I'm totally okay now," I said.

"Very well, I'm going to write you a citation for biological littering, but since the amount of fluid was borderline negligible, there won't be any temporal investigation this time," said the policeman before he left.

"I see your numbers are up today, Malcolm. Keep up the good work," said the noder supervisor that I had never met before. As soon as he left, I went back to sleep.

Jaime was in her room with the door shut when I returned from work. I knew she was in there because I could hear her music playing. Whatever kind of music it was, it had a heavy bass beat.

I sat in my room and I wondered why all of the other students in the dorm were so isolated. They never listened to loud music or talked to each other in the halls or they never even seemed to visit with each other. It was pretty depressing.

"That's the pot calling the kettle black," I said to myself. I decided to visit Jaime.

I knocked on her door for several minutes before she answered. "Oh, hi Malcolm," she said as she motioned me inside. Her room was exactly like mine, except messier. I moved a purple bra out of the way and sat down on her bed.

"It occurred to me that I can prove to you that I'm an interdimensional traveller by showing you some of the places I've been when we get to the map room," I said.

"Well, it would be quite a feat for a first year Institute student to be a skilled enough remote projectionist to view specific, tangible planes, but it's not unheard of, you know," said Jaime.

"I guess I can't expect you to believe something that's totally unprovable," I said. "I'm the same way with God."

"Yeah. Faith was never a strong point for me, either," said Jaime. "But I like a good story. So, where all have you been? I suppose you've probably been on your romantic transdimensional quest for many years now?"

"Just a week or so, actually, but it's hard to keep track of time," I said.

I told Jaime about how I was foiled in each of the few dimensions I'd already visited. She was pretty amused by the story of how I was so distraught about finding out that Sara's first doppleganger was a lesbian, that I danced with a transvestite. "Was she cute?" asked Jaime.

"Very much," I said.

"Cuter than me?" said Jaime.

"No," I said. "I like your boobs better."

Jaime pinned me down with a pillow. "Augh! You boys are all the same," she said while laughing. I noticed that she had cut her fingernails down to the cuticle.

"Okay, I like your laugh, too," I said. She moved off of me and smiled.

I told her about how the next dimension that I visited was very pleasant, but that my former self had set an ominous trap for me. I left out the part about Ribeiro dying. I also didn't mention that I had hurt Sara's doppleganger when I was in the dimension with PTSD.

"I don't blame you for leaving, PTSD totally sucks," said Jaime. Jaime talked a little about her childhood, but she skirted around the obvious pink elephant in the living room. Namely, it was the question why she reported herself to Child Protection Services at age ten. The answer was pretty clear to me by now anyways.

I told Jaime about all of my childhood friends. My mom and dad weren't so bad, but they were boring and unpassionate. Andrew and Sara were the only people I knew that struck me as having deep running passions and emotions. Andrew's river always seemed to reflect the dreams of people around him. I liked Jaime's idea that friendship is a kind of balance and that it should always tend to even out randomly. Andrew always made sure that he was carrying other people's weight and doing other people's wishes. He made a lot of friends that way, but I think it distanced him because others were always waiting for the other shoe to drop and for him to start spending his brownie points.

I used to feel that way, but it occurs to me that he probably was just missing the knowledge of that one piece of relationship building that says that you sometimes need to ask your friends for help. I felt a little sorry for him, until I remembered that I was missing that and many other huge gaps in my own copy of the social rule book.

I imagined that Sara's river of passion was a sweeping underground current. She indulged a lot of small whims and they were always fun, innocent whims as opposed to dangerous or harmful ones. I think she probably woke up each day and couldn't wait to find out what small day-to-day adventures would await her. I remember that she was so excited on the day that she left for Spain, and she was equally excited on the day that she came home. That was the first time that she hugged me, or at least it was the first time that she hugged me and I knew that I had a terrible secret crush on her. I had fretted for weeks about whether or not to tell her, but all that preplanning came crumbling down the second she mentioned Ribeiro. I remember that she smelled like vanilla and jasmine that day and I remember that my stomach turned into a deep, yawning pit.

I fell into a very serious depression at the end of that summer. It was the deepest, darkest hole of existential angst and post-modern doubt that I'd ever crawled into. I felt isolated, friendless and stupid.

"My life is a kind of suicide," I told Jaime. She frowned at me, but she didn't have anything constructive to say.

"Are you sure that you don't need to masturbate?" said Jaime.

"Yeah, I'm sure," I said.

"Are you positive? I think it would help," she said.

"No, it wouldn't," I said with a more serious tone. "But sometimes I've feared that when I ejaculate, I'm creating a brand new Universe. You know, like Ra did in the Egyptian creation myth."

"That's a lot of pressure. No wonder you're such a tough nut to crack," said Jaime.

"Nice pun," I said.

"Thanks, I'm pretty proud of it myself," she said.

I told Jaime about my other friends Jonathan, Michael and Rachel. Jonathan was a true enigma, but the type that you never really planned on solving because you didn't really care. In fact, he was kind of an asshole most of the time. Highly competitive, unemotional, and he had a nihilistic sense of humor. The only problem was that he was also really easy to hang around with, since I never had to worry about having to impress a guy that I had absolutely no respect for.

I didn't really remember Michael and Rachel until I saw them again in the dimension I visited in Syracuse, but I did remember now that I had a class with them before I dropped out and that Michael and I talked on the bus a couple times. I started to think that Jaime didn't look too much like Rachel to me anymore, but it might have been because I always saw Rachel as unappealing because she was perpetually making time with Michael and she was therefore blatantly unavailable. Jaime, on the other hand, was blatantly available, beautiful and nice. What the hell was wrong with me?

I wanted to kiss her and I moved towards her side of the bed, but she yawned and said that she wanted to go to sleep. I went to my room and thought about masturbating, then I felt guilty and I thought about Sara.

"Guilt is a type of innocence." God damn it Cassandra, stop talking, I'm trying to go to sleep. Why did Jaime's ravings the other day continue to strike me so painfully? I was just glad that my balls had stopped hurting.

It would have been pretty funny if she said "now turn your head and cough," instead of that pithy thing about being a man. The sleep that I got while the school's long-distance communications were buzzing around in the back of my head must not have been very good, since I fell to sleep rather easily once I had reached the drowsy, ponderous stage of rest.

I had a lucid dream. It started out where I was sitting on a short school bus, at a fold up poker table playing Dungeons and Dragons with the old club that used to meet at Jonathan's house. Jonathan was being a rude dungeon master as usual. I rolled the dice to determine how many saves I would get against the wand of magic missile that I was being attacked with. The dice came up pi and Jonathan announced joyously that I was dead, but I didn't care since I had determined at that point that I was dreaming.

I have two different modus operandi when I enter into a lucid dream. The first one is to find a beautiful girl and to begin making out with her. Obviously, I would prefer that that girl was as close as possible to being Sara, but my lucid dreams don't usually work that way. I can control myself and I can sometimes do Jedi mind tricks to control the people I'm dreaming about, but I can't drastically change the course of the dream on purpose. The problem with the first modus operandi is that making out with beautiful girls tends to be an intense enough experience that it almost immediately wakes me up. Sometimes I can break away from the embrace temporarily when I feel the dream world slipping away and regain my dream state, but it eventually always breaks down. I think part of the problem is that my imagination has to fill in too many of the gaps for things that I've never experienced, so that if I allow things to progress beyond making out, I always wake up. For instance, my mind has only the vaguest idea what sex feels like, since it doesn't have a memory item to dig out of its archives. My dreams try to extrapolate as much as possible from my present experience base, which, luckily, has grown since I met Jaime, but it's still missing enough key ingredients that I lose the suspension of dream belief that is necessary to hold on to that reality.

None of that mattered that night, though, because I favored my second modus operandi for lucid dreaming. Namely, I explored the dreamscape through flight. Sometimes I need a running start, and sometimes I need to wave my arms as if they were the raccoon tail in Super Mario Brothers Three. Sometimes I have to reconvince myself that I'm dreaming and that I can break whatever laws of physics I damn well please to break. That night I jumped out the emergency exit in the back of the short bus.

I sped down a canyon of squat city buildings as if I were making my way to the Death Star's unfortunate exhaust vent in an X-Wing, then I shot straight up into the night sky and the full moon engulfed two-thirds of my field of vision. I veered back down and the ground had become a green three dimensional fractal landscape with spires of pixelized stalagmites. I zoomed towards the ground with suicidal speed, but I turned to face backwards at the moment before impact.

Another trick I had learned in dreams was that walls had no clipping if I wasn't facing them. It was as if the Quake engine in my mind didn't bother to render items that weren't currently being viewed.

I found myself gliding through a sunny forest, towards a looming white and blue mountain. I was bored with zooming around, so I landed and I thought about trying to imagine up a copy of Jaime. I guess I must have been switching lucid modes, but I might have also been feeling lonely.

I woke up. I quickly mentally examined the dream I just had, but there wasn't much to dissect since it was a lucid dream and not a normal dream that was fraught with Freudian connotations and Jungian mischief. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

I was awakened for good the next morning. Jaime was jumping on my bed again. "Hey Malcs," she said. "Guess who's the bestest buddy in the world?"

"Who?" I asked, quite drowsily.

"Meeee!" said Jaime in a delightfully disturbing child voice. "I totally got all the information we'll need to get into the map room. I just have to meet with my contact to get all the right identification."

"Wow. Thanks. You really are a good friend," I said.

"Damn straight," said Jaime. "Whee! Join me."

What the hell, I thought, so I got up and jumped on the bed, too. "So, are you like manic depressive or something?" I said.

"Mmm. Could be, pumpkin, could be," said Jaime. One of the robies in the hall glared at us with an intense disgust before continuing on his way to work.

"Wow, that could have been embarrassing," said Jaime. "It's a good thing you don't have morning wood."

"Ha ha," I said. "It's a good thing you're not ticklish."

I don't know what got into me, but I had to touch her. I lunged towards her, ready to tickle, but she darted off the bed and out the door. "Don't even think about it," she said, with great jest, before disappearing into the hallway.

I had never really tickled anybody before. It's really such a strange phenomenon, since it's really a very predatory, very domineering and often partriarchal act. But it's also intimate and fun and childish and innocent. Therefore, I wasn't surprised when Jaime had run away and I felt a little guilty for wanting to attack her that way. I could never treat Sara that way, but, then again, maybe that was why I was never with her.

I ate breakfast and took a shower, noting that my wounds were scabbing over quite nicely. Jaime and I walked to work and she talked about how much muscle tone she had lost due to the Martian gravity. "I used to be so tight," she said. "It was yummy. Even I couldn't resist myself."

"Am I the only one here who's disturbed by your subtext?" I said.

"Yeah, my subtext is all fatty and droopy, too, see?" she said while waggling her butt at me.

"No, I mean, I didn't turn you down the other night because you're not yummy," I said.

"I don't know if you've noticed this, but I'm in a silly, happy mood right now, Mister Let's Talk Seriously About Our Relationship Guy," said Jaime. The last half of her sentence was said in a mockingly serious, exaggerated businesslike tone.

Jaime's antics were stating to exacerbate me something bad, but we reached the noding office soon enough. I set up my spying algorithm to tag any communications that were coming from the building that Jaime had learned that the map room was housed in.

One communication came from the map room itself. A scientist was showing one of his peers a holographic mock up of one of the new alien species that they had discovered that were inhabiting the Earth in another dimension. It looked almost exactly like an Oompa Loompa dressed in tin foil. I imagined him singing the section of the Oompa Loompa song that they sang when Mike TeeVee got sucked into the television:

I've got another puzzle for you,

Oompa Loompa doompadah dee:

If you are wise you'll listen to me,

What do you get from a glut of TV?

A pain in the neck and an IQ of three,

Why don't you try simply reading a book?

Or could you just not bear to look?

You'll get no,

You'll get no,

You'll get no,

You'll get no,

You'll get no commercials,

Oompa Loompa doompadee dah,

If you're not greedy you will go far,

You will live in happiness too,

Like the, Oompa, Oompa Loompa doompadee do.

The brilliance of the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory always seemed to be to me that it was, on the surface, a trite moralistic allegory that taught kids that they shouldn't be gluttons. On the other hand, it's a cunningly insidious piece of communist propaganda. The side-plot regarding greed is merely a none too subtle satire of the capitalist marketplace disguised in order to be appropriate in a children's film.

In reality, the sole moral is that all the spoiled bourgeois children eventually die horrible deaths at the hands of the communal Oompa Loompas. The selfish children do not merely self-destruct because of their greedy essences, instead they are symbolically assimilated into the factory through drowning, conflagration and explosion.

In the beginning of the tale, the mad runs on the chocolate stores epitomize the absurdity of capitalist overconsumption. Charlie earns his golden ticket through virtue and faith, but the wealthy can buy their own golden ticket by exploiting the sweat of worker and turning them against each other, as was the case with Veruca Salt and her insanely wealthy father's ticket finding crusade.

Unlike the other wealthy and upper middle class winners, the proletariat child, Charlie, lives in dire poverty due to the slum lord land owner that poorly manages his grandparents' apartment. When Charlie finally makes something of himself, he is stalked at every turn by the corrupting capitalist influences of the rival chocolate maker. Nevertheless, Charlie fights the good fight and, being the poster boy for the poor, down trodden worker, he is rewarded with the keys to the factory by Gene Wilder himself.

Most people will tell you that the Smurfs were the Communist's best victory in the psyops war that brought hidden Marxist propaganda into our children's living rooms, but it was really Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that deserves that trophy.

On the other hand, Charlie's proletariat grandfather was an utterly lazy slob, who sacrificed the well-being of his family in order to sit around growing bed sores in the name of a disability check.

Blaming the kids is a lie an a shame,

You know exactly who is to blame,

The mother and the father,

Oompa Loompa doompadee dah,

If you're not spoiled then you will go far,

You will live in happiness too,

Like the Oompa Loompa doompadee do.

The reason that capitalism has had a longer shelf life than communism is because capitalism is designed to thrive on innate human greed, but communism's ideals are always thwarted by greed. The greed of the ruling classes leads to power and paranoia and Stalinesque purges and the greed of the individual workers leads to hoarding, which requires police intervention and even more Stalinesque purging.

On the other hand, capitalism's wheels are greased by selfishness and the system therefore encourages it everywhere it can. The problem with slippery wheels is that it makes it impossible to stop the momentum to, say, avoid running over a homeless man or to prevent, perhaps, the destruction of the Earth through pollution and nonrenewable consumption.

It's lucky for this dimension that they've begun conquering the solar system. My home dimension, on the other hand, had better start throwing some funding in to either nano scale recycling technology or NASA space colonies hella quick.

Of course, even if your species can survive it, there's still a price to be paid in the soul for greed, but I get the feeling that a society where every inhabitant was capable of striving for self-actualization is just too much to ask for from the Universe.

Interdimensional mental travel certainly does have the side-effect of turning one into an antimaterialist, but so far it hasn't solved any of my lady problems.

The rest of the day's network transmissions were pretty boring. Amongst the bureaucratic slop, there was a small plot involving academic backstabbing while grabbing for tenure, but the players appeared to have convinced themselves that their shady morals were for the betterment of the Solar democracy.

I next saw Jaime back at my dorm room forty-five minutes after work. She had already made the plans to storm the Bastille tonight.

"We were totally in luck," said Jaime. "I made contact with a couple of students who wanted to go AWOL tonight to party with some of their friends who are on probation. They're letting us borrow their ID tags so we can wander around and leave a digital trail and therefore set up an alibi for them."

"Wow. It's almost creepy how easily you accomplished this. Are you sure you want to be a detective and not just remain a criminal mastermind?" I said.

"You haven't heard the best part," said Jaime. "One of the students we're covering for is an intern in the actual map room. All lights are green, babe, but we have to leave now if we want get to the inner circle in time for our scheduled rendezvous."

We stopped in Jaime's room to pick up some of her supplies. She handed me a tin card that had a makeshift specialized computer chip and a button built into it. "That's the skeleton key I've used to break into your room before," said Jaime. "My secret little weapon for stalking you into being my friend."

"What does it do? Brute force the digital combination on the locks?" I asked.

"Actually, it utilizes an expensive quantum computer that pulls the near-best answer out of a genetic algorithm where each genome exists in one of the many worlds. You just gotta cross your fingers and hope that you're not on the world that's gotta compute the actual right answer, cuz man, having all those other dimensions tuning into your box has got to burn out a few circuits."

"Okay, you just threw a bunch of buzz word phrases in that description to make me feel better, right? It really just works on magic?" I said.

"Yeah, pretty much. Well, actually, it's what the cops use to break down doors and it more or less works as I half-assedly described it as working, but the lock companies purposefully build quantum crackable locks to keep the police state happy. Banks and map rooms and such are a little harder to crack," explained Jaime.

"But luckily, we won't have to crack that lock," I said.

"By Pharaoh, I think he's got it," said Jaime.

Jaime's backdoor route into the inner circle took us halfway around the perimeter of the dome and into a medium-sized atrium. We crawled through some thick bushes and Jaime dusted off the grim from a manhole-sized manhole.

Jaime told me to put the skeleton key into a slot on the hole's cover. The card tweeted acceptance and Jaime lifted the lid from two handles that appeared on either side of the hole. The hole lifted straight up four feet and was attached to some support poles. I climbed down the ladder and Jaime followed, then she pushed a button on one of the poles that causes the manhole to slide down. I began trekking through the sludge at the bottom of the tunnel towards the inner circle. "Malcolm, wait, I have to trick the security node into reporting another node's identifier number," said Jaime.

Jaime looked at a small box that was attached to the wall of the drainage tunnel that we'd just crawled into. She copied the number that was written on the box into a small, egg shaped handheld computer and she explained that she was using her cubical neighbor's computer administrator access account to temporarily swap the name resolution entries for this node with another, less conspicuous, node in the network address resolution database. "The morning security shift will look right over that other node when they check the logs, then I'll switch the database back its original configuration tomorrow," said Jaime.

"You're just bragging right now, right?" I said.

"Pretty much, yeah," she said.

"Doesn't this drainage ditch fill up with water when the atrium's oxygenation process starts?" I said.

"Oh, that's hours from now. Poo poo. Where's you're sense of adventure?" she said.

"I left it back home with my enthusiasm for death by drowning," I said.

"Oh ye of little faith, we're already at the end," she said as she pushed the emergency release on the wall for the manhole over head.

"Let there be light," I said as the cover mechanically raised itself several more feet above our heads, but no extra light shone through the cracks.

"Malcolm, the quad of the inner circle isn't lighted at night, since nobody's really encouraged to be out this late," said Jaime.

We climbed the ladder and found ourselves in the middle of a small arboretum. We were next to one of two paths that converged at right angles in the center of the quad. Those paths led to four thin buildings that extended out lengthwise to the various edges of the middle ring. The center of the quad was slightly higher elevation than where we were standing. Two students dressed in final year purple robes exited the shiny, grey aluminum building that we had emerged near. Without exchanging a single pleasantry, they handed us their identity cards and they removed their robes and gave them to us. Underneath, they were wearing casual clothes akin to what the physical plant workers wore. Basically, they wore plain khakis with cotton shirts that had sleeves that extended to the elbow. Silently, the couple descended the ladder.

"That was Cleo and Joel," said Jaime, whispering. "They're really cool. We partied once on Earth."

"I guess I get to be Cleo?" I asked while reading the identity card that was handed to me. In the photo, she had red hair and an intoxicating smile.

"Yeah, she's the one with the access to the map room," said Jaime.

"Wait, so you can't come in there with me?" I said, disappointed. I wanted to show Jaime where I came from.

"Nope. Actually, I was going to run a little errand," she said.

I didn't bother asking Jaime what her errand was, I figured it had to be another run on the sumat vaults.

"Okay. Is this the point where we synchronize watches?" I asked.

"What do you mean? My watch is synchronized to the Olympia atomic clock server, isn't your's?"

"Nevermind. It's a saying where I come from," I said.

"Oh," said Jaime and then she gave me a kiss on the cheek. "Malcolm, I hope you break a leg... I don't mean that literally, that's a saying from where I come from."

"Yeah, we have that one, too," I said. "Uhm, where am I going?"

Jaime handed me a self-luminated map. "Follow this path to the end of the quad, then go to the left of the thin building and enter the hexagonal building that's in the corner. It should be labeled "Module C" on all the outside doors. Inside, the hallways are organized as spokes, so all you have to do is follow a spoke to the map room in the center. Use your identity card on all the doors, even if they're already unlocked," said Jaime. "We'll meet back here in exactly 75 minutes, comprende?"

I checked my watch. "Okay," I said.

Jaime started to walk away in the opposite direction than I'd be going. "Wait," I said as I stepped quickly to catch up. "What about the buddy system?"

"They're not always running surveillance on loners," said Jaime. "Sometimes yous gotta rolls the dice and takes your chances."

I started walking to the other side of the quad, but I turned back to look for Jaime and she was gone already and I was suddenly very frightened. I wasn't scared for myself, since I planned to leap out of this dimension as soon as I found a route to the perfect Sara world, but I was scared about what could happen to Jaime after I left.

I wanted to believe that she could take care of herself. In fact, I knew that she could take care of herself better than I could in most situations, but there were times when she didn't take very good care of herself at all. Specifically, I feared that she would be consumed by her addiction to sumat.

Even if I stayed, I probably couldn't save her. Let some other co-dependent version of myself straighten that girl out, I thought.

The stars shone down brightly through the clear plexiglass ceiling of the quad and the Milky Way was plainly visible. I wondered if perhaps the rest of the city was enclosed by opaque metal instead of glass in order to salvage this view from the ravages of light pollution. Of course, there was nobody outside tonight to see any of it. One of the Martian moons had reached its zenith above me.

A few minutes later, I reached the corner of the quad where the hexagonal building sat. It was also made of grey aluminum and I caught a distorted glimpse of my dim reflection as I rounded a corner towards the nearest entryway. I looked good in purple.

My hazy purple reflection reminded me temporarily about the Experience Music Project. I had the song "I Fought the Law" stuck in my head:

"I miss my baby and I feel so bad,

I guess my race is run,

She's the best girl I've ever had,

I fought the law and the law won,

I fought the law and the law won."

I slid the borrowed identity card into the slot and the door automatically opened inwards without incident. As I walked down the hallway towards the center of the building, the lights turned on to follow me, which was slightly alarming, but I knew that the identity cards were programmed with lighting preferences and related information. Apparently the settings always default to the instructions programmed by the highest ranking student or faculty member in the room. Soon enough, I reached the shiny grey door that led into the map room.

Purple haze, get it? I slid the card into its slot that was at waist level. I no longer had "I Fought the Law" stuck in my head but the line, "Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand?" did pop up from time to time.

As the door automatically opened, the bright lights in the map room blinked on and the holographic display for the interdimensional map display began humming into action. The words, "Welcome back, Cleo" hung in the air in the center of the room and they faced me no matter where I stood in the room.

The map room was set up like the planetarium at the Seattle Science Museum, with theater seats surrounding the holographic generator for all 360 degrees. I saw a 60s retrospective laser light show there, once, as a matter of fact. Sara and Ribeiro snuggled through the entire show.

"Alright. I'm goin' down to shoot my old lady, you know I caught her messin' `round with another man."

I tapped a button on the floor and a seat with two chordal keyboards in the armrests slid up from beneath the floor panels near the edge of the holographic space. I sat down.

The computer's interface was very similar to the ones I had worked with earlier. In fact, the holographic projector displayed a small diorama-like screen in front of my seat that was identical to the short 3D depth of the other computers that I'd worked with in this Universe. I quickly whipped up a script that would search the map's network of nodes by doing a breadth first search that started at the root dimension. That is to say, the script started in this current dimension and searched all of the adjacent dimensions and continued to search outwards from there.

I had already known from the earlier lecture that the map of the known multiverse was capable of reading and searching many of the computer networks in foreign dimensions, since most of them were all very similar. In fact, they said that almost all of the English speaking dimensions that had computers and that been mapped were already deciphered. All my script did was query each node that it visited with an Internet search that would report whether or not I had ever been married to a Ms. (Sara) Thatcher.

I had no idea if that search would pan out in time, so I strengthened my odds by putting that task in the background while I searched the Multiverse database manually. I was quite happily surprised when I found what I believed to be my home dimension with only a few minutes worth of intuitive searching.

By that time, I had learned how to display the local node cluster using the full holographic projector. Each dimension's point in the display had a default label that listed the family, genus, species and technological level of the most advanced Earth-bound creatures in that dimension. Obviously, most of the dimensions near mine were labeled with the phrase "Primate, Homo Sapien, B.Q.C." The B.Q.C. stood for "Before Quantum Computing," although I kind of felt bad that they didn't give us some credit for the few quantum bits we'd already tweaked as a society. I stepped out of my chair and I walked around the room browsing the sphere of data from several different angles. Some of the links between nodes in this graph indicated the estimated Gregorian date that each dimension diverged from its parent dimension.

I was delighted to find that one of the mapped links from my dimension had diverged before Sara went to Spain and met Ribeiro. In fact, it diverged during the February of that very year, 1995. I indicated to the computer with my eye movements that I wanted to redefine the range of the map and center it on that first divergent node. Unfortunately, only a handful of dimensions were mapped in this cul-de-sac of nodes.

Ribeiro had a small personal web site that he used to write updates for his friends and family on. Back home, I would browse it occasionally when I had an intense urge to hate myself. Today, I browsed it looking for good news.

What I found was a suicide note. It was dated September 30, 2000.

Dearest Friends and Family,

I am sorry to hurt you all like this. Please always remember that I love you very much. I can not continue to live in this world where I am surrounded by darkness and deceit. Nobody trusts me. My peers at UW always steal my work and my teachers hate me so they don't listen to me when I complain. They say that I am a stupid foreigner and they say behind my back that I should go home to Europe. I know I would die if I went home without doing my family proud. I know you love me, but I can not put up with this torture. There is nothing left for you to do for me. I have been thinking about how I want to go, and I think it would be very peaceful to fall to my death. I know that sounds violent to you, but it sounds very beautiful to me. Sienna, I know you always will carry me in your heart, but I hope I do not break it too badly. I hope you can continue and love more after I am gone.



The funny thing is, if I were going to write a letter that tried to make it sound like a mid-twenty-something college student had suddenly been affected by a case of paranoid schizophrenic depression, it would probably sound a lot like Ribeiro's suicide note.

The entry that preceded the suicide note in Ribeiro's online journal detailed a day he spent with Sienna, obviously that must be Sara's doppleganger in this set of dimensions. They went to the aerospace museum at Boeing Field and they pretended to be John and Jackie Kennedy when they toured the decommissioned Air Force One that was on exhibit there.

Ribeiro's online journal had the same content in each of the dimensions in the cul-de-sac that I visited. By the time I reached the last node, I was barely skimming the page when something made my heart beat's tempo suddenly leap from a slow jazz station to a heavy metal one: "Sara, I know you always will carry me in your heart, but I hope I do not break it too badly. I hope you can continue and love more after I am gone."

I checked the preceding entry, but Ribeiro always referred to his girlfriend in that entry as, "Sienna." In fact, all of the previous entries that I checked talked lovingly about "Sienna." Whoever wrote Ribeiro's suicide note in that dimension had made an incredibly blatant mistake.

I recentered the map on a dimension that was outside this set of dead ends. The only mapped divergence from my home dimension that was closest to the year 1996 supposedly took place in 1991. I couldn't find any personal information on that dimension's Internet about Ribeiro, nor could I find any Internet presence for myself. Of course, I never did like to navigate the Gopher interface and this dimension apparently didn't have a World Wide Web. I kept running across Grateful Dead Gopher sites, for some reason.

I decided to give up on that particular dimension, since I couldn't imagine a world without web pages. I remembered something. One of the display criteria for the map was a flag named "temporal wake anomalies" and I once theorized that every time I leap, most of the branching universes that arise from that decision would be affected by minute, random reverberations on the superstring level that would affect the passage of time as perceived by alternate dimensions. Eventually the equation would balance out and the compression and elongation of time in each dimension would return to the normal equilibrium . Indeed, when I set the holographic display to mark the number of temporal wake anomalies in each dimension instead of showing the kingdom, genus and species information labels, I noticed a pattern of dimensions that were affected surrounding my home dimension. My hypothesis is that the dimensions that were marked with anomalies were the dimensions that me and my dopplegangers were travelling throughout. I searched for patterns in the system.

There was a fairly easily spotted cluster of nodes at the edge of the anomalous perimeter that was curious. Instead of tapering off at the edge, this block was totally blank. I zoomed in on it. I was hoping that any nodes where I hadn't been leaping about must have been nodes where I was content, and that would probably mean that I had a girlfriend.

Of course, if he was so content, then there might be a very poor chance that my doppleganger in that dimension would give up his happy life. Actually, I wasn't sure if that was a problem, since I hadn't yet determined whether or not the Multiverse was a discrete Multiverse. In a discrete Multiverse, there are a finite number of paths that each person's life can take at any given point. Each tiny, subconscious decision would have a yes or no, or a black and white answer and the Universe would diverge in only two directions for each of those questions that was asked. The sum of the infinite decisions that people, and their subatomic particles, made throughout eternal time would still sum up to create an infinity of worlds, but it would be a countable infinity of worlds. At any given moment, there would be a finite number of worlds between the mappable, visitable divergent worlds.

On the other hand, if the Multiverse was not discrete, then there would be infinite worlds that branched off of a root world. Each moment, on each world, infinite new world paths would be created. This was the type of Multiverse I was hoping for, since it would mean that I didn't actually have to swap minds with one of my willing dopplegangers. I could take a moment and create, to use an inaccurate, but apt, metaphor: I would create an infinity plus one branch all for myself. That action couldn't possibly harm anybody, since my happy dopplegangers would continue to live their infinitely happy lives on their various paths.

Knowing whether or not the Multiverse was discrete would answer a few other questions that had been nagging on my mind about what happens when I leap out of a Universe. Sometimes another version of me leaps in to take my place, I know that, but if there are infinite branches at the moment that the process is finished, then that would mean that in some of those branches, there wasn't an active doppleganger who was ready to leap into the left over body. The body would become a comatose, soulless shell, not unlike it was on a perpetual sumat trip but without the rapid eye movement. That thought disturbed me and I was reminded of the face I had seen at Ribeiro's funeral.

The problem with this map of the known Multiverse was that it was impossible to map the total infinity of the Multiverse. Obviously, the astral anthropologists and explorers who made the map were only looking at the most significant branches of the Multiverse. Certain worlds are just more real, more probable, than others. The probability of a world was also a factor in deciding where I would leap to when I was leaping randomly.

The computer shot up an announcement that the search algorithm that I had been running in the background had found a dimension that met my marriage criteria. I was overjoyed and I immediately reset the map display to center itself on the newly found dimension.

As I suspected, the dimension that the search script had found was an unmarked oasis amongst worlds that were marked with wake anomalies. The distance between this node and the dimension that I was currently in was exactly five arcs. I checked my watch. I had fifteen more minutes left until I had to meet Jaime back at the manhole.

In order to direct my leaping in the direction of the correct nodes, I wrote a chain letter and I included a unique random string of numbers in the letter's body for each dimension that I would have to visit. I memorized those numbers and then I used the small mail transfer protocol to send the chain letter to a hundred or so email addresses that I harvested off various insipid boy band web forums. I also carbon copied one to my old email address and one to a Hotmail account that I made in each dimension. Hopefully the letters would propagate widely enough that it would ease the difficulty of targeting, but all I really needed was a single unique target in each dimension in order to tune in to the vicinity of where I wanted to be. I could have also used a place, a person or the divergence dates as targets, but I had no guarantee that something I chose would be unique enough to direct me where I wanted to be.

It made more sense to make this leap in piecemeal than trying to jump directly to the dimension that I wanted to go to. If I made a mistake while trying to make a small leap, I would almost certainly end up adjacent to the node that I was trying to travel to and I could make a second attempt to return there. However, if I tried to leap through all five connections at once, I could end up in an extremely divergent reality and I'd have no way to return on track. Targeting related dimensions was also easier and more accurate that targeting lesser related ones once you got the knack of it. Sticking to a closer range also meant there was a lesser chance that my target information was repeated somewhere in a wrong dimension.

I accomplished all of this and I still had five minutes to spare. I decided to explore the fringes of the mapped Multiverse and I reset the display to show the default labels.

Some of the more interesting Earth-bound sentient cultures included a dolphin society and a human culture that had somehow regressed from high technology to stone age and a species that was called "homo naranjas." All of the homo naranjas worlds' profile information was classified beyond the security level of the identity card I was borrowing, however. The technology label for those worlds merely said, "ADVANCED." There was also a dimension where the planet Earth had been replaced by a miniature black hole of equal mass. The mapper that discovered the planet's remains noted that it might have been the result of a research or industrial accident, or that a miniature black hole might have collided with the Earth. He also speculated that terrorists might have used a Doomsday device to devour the entire planet.

My favorite unique, eccentric world was the one where the researcher noted: "the human species on this planet has genetically altered itself significantly, but with only one goal in mind: they have replaced daily sleep with yearly hibernation. Mating season occurs during the months preceding and following hibernation and, for the sake of academia, I can not describe the torrid combinations of partnership that these creatures engage in. However, once they've gotten sleeping and mating out of their systems, they have admirably productive years." The researcher logs noted a significant increase in system views during the world's mating season.

I checked my watch and I still had a few minutes to go until I had to go meet Jaime. I paused and then I realized that much more than fifteen minutes had to of passed since I was first alerted that my script had found a match. I checked the time on the computer instead of on my watch. My watch was running 17 minutes slow, despite the fact that I had checked it against the computer's time just before leaving Jaime's room and again in the drainage tunnel with Jaime.

I switched off the computer and retracted the chair back into the floor. I started jogging up one of the aisles between the sets of audience seating, and the lights in the room suddenly went off, even though I hadn't commanded them to. I heard some of the doors in the map room opening, but I didn't see or hear the firing of the tranquilizer gun in as much as I felt the dart in the back of my thigh and I heard the sound of jackboots galloping in from behind.

I awoke within a cyan haze of sound. I was sitting upright, but I couldn't move any of my limbs. There were two people in the room with me.

"As I'm sure you already know, the projection blocking apparatus that we've surrounded you with will cause a mild, temporary case of synesthesia," said the interrogator with the salty tasting appearance.

Now seemed like as good a time to leap to the next dimension as any. I concentrated on the number that was my first target and I tried initiating the leaping process. My neck and shoulders pulsed with a pain that shot up into my skull like an axe headed migraine. I cried out in grape, blinding pain.

"That probably wasn't such a good idea," said the other interrogator whose mustache looked vinegary.

The pain in my head caused me to fight at my metal restraints with an uncontrolled ferocity. The pressure and jerking smelled like Oreos and I called out to my imprisoners, "fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you..."

The vinegar mustached man pulled a gag out of his pocket, walked up to me, pushed my head back and forced it in my mouth. It tasted like a tetrahedron. "There will be a time for talking, but that time is not now," he said. They both left the room.

Limited resources aren't the only reason why the authorities in this dimension only picked on people when they were alone. Psychologically, it's the old divide and conquer routine. Two or more people are much more difficult to subdue than someone working alone, so your best bet is to go after the loners first. The Universe is chalk full of loners, so that's more than enough criminal justice to keep the prisons overcrowded. Also, the theory is that traditional criminology resources are just as useful as psychic surveillance when it comes to organized crime, since very, very few people are so lucky as to find a buddy as trustworthy as Jaime.

The system's most important goal wasn't to end evildoing. The system's most important goal was to separate people from each other and end their capacity for empathy and trust. Broken men listen to authority and the easiest way to break a man is to deny him the company of humanity and the most convenient time to do so is when he's alone. The difference between Robin Hood and Kevin Mitnick is that Robin Hood had a band of merry men by his side. It's like Noam Chomsky said in the documentary Manufacturing Consent, "You can't fight the world alone."

Left alone and trapped under the bright, licorice flood lights of the interrogation room, I suddenly remembered Jaime and I got very frightened for her. If she got hurt, it would be all my fault. I also was overcome with an immense wave of guilt for trying to leap out and abandon this dimension without making sure she was alright.

I tried to calm myself and rationalize my attempt to leave. She might not have been caught. I could always remote view this dimension and see her and maybe even return here if she was in trouble. I closed my eyes and tried not to think about what would happen next. I waited.

I don't know how many hours had passed until the salty tasting interrogator returned to the room and ungagged me. It was a woman. "What are the coordinates of your dimension of origination?" she said violently.

"I don't know the coordinates," I said. "But I could show you on the map."

The interrogator shoved back my head, replaced the gag and left the room.

Both of the interrogators returned after a lot more time had passed, but it wasn't nearly as much time as had passed the first time they left me alone. I was getting hungry in addition to already being quite thirsty. "What are the coordinates of your dimension of origination?" said the male interrogator while the female interrogator removed the gag.

"I already said I could show you on the map," I said.

"What are your orders for this mission?" said the female interrogator.

"I don't have any orders," I said.

The salty woman closed her eyes momentarily and my intestines boiled in pain. "Son of a bitch," I shouted.

"The best part of the projection blocking apparatus is that it'll cause that sensation where ever one of us tries to remote view or project into or out of," she said. "Just imagine how it will feel when I visualize your genitalia." She winked.

"Look, I'm not here to play this stupid Geneva convention violating game, okay?" I said after I regained my mental composure. "I'm not a soldier and I'm not a spy."

"So, what are you, then? A tourist?" said the man with a snort.

"That's about right, yeah," I said.

"So, I suppose that in your dimension, civilians are allowed to tesseract haphazardly throughout the many worlds on vacation whims? I suppose you just rack up the mental energy charges on your credit card?' said the woman. The man snorted again.

I didn't have anything to say, so I waited.

"What are your orders?" said the man.

"Okay, before you twist around the inside of my scrotum with a cocktail fork, could you just tell me the right answer instead?" I said.

The man sighed, closed his eyes and gave me a triple-trailer sized migraine. I passed out for a moment.

"I liked his cocktail fork idea a lot better, you know, Franklin," said the woman to the male.

"You always go straight for the balls, Mindy, if I didn't know better I'd think you had man issues," said Franklin.

"I just use what works," said Mindy. "They never want to talk after you go for the migraine. It just makes them grumpy. You have to go after what's important to them."

"Fine. Why don't we just let the psycho forensics team start up with him? They've been wanting to dissect his brain since we first heard about it," said Franklin.

They left the room. It was a horrible shame that I wasn't an enemy spy, since they were playing quite a fine game of bad cop, bad cop. Either that, or I hoped that "dissect his brain" was just a pleasant euphemism for an MRI.

I felt bad that I didn't have a selfless cause that I was dying for. I had always wondered if my fear of death was truly the fear of eternal nonexistence, the fear that life had no meaning since it was so easily lost or whether my fear was merely because I hadn't found anything so beautiful that I would be willing to die for it.

I once posited the question on a wanky Internet discussion board, "If I find love, will I stop fearing death?" The answer was, "No, you will fear death more because death means separation." That reality stung. I was hoping for someone to say that, yes, the emotion of love transcends the emotion of death phobia because you will have finally found something that takes you out of yourself. I wanted to know that love existed and that it would cure me of my existential ennui. I wanted to know that love would convince me that life was more than an illusion because I would have found something that was more real than reality.

The problem with hardcore solipsism and any brand of nihilism is that they are utterly consistent and utterly useless philosophies. Once you think about the idea that your consciousness might be the only thing that exists and that nothing exists outside the self, there's no way to unthink that thought. There's no way to convince yourself that it might not be true. Sure, there are other, more useful ways to look at reality, but none of them are any more valid that "cogito, ergo sum." I think, therefore I am, but I have no idea that anybody else is out there thinking. I want to know and I want to feel that there is someone else out there. I want to connect with the theater of someone else's mind. That's why I travel, but travelling only leads you to death. Unfortunately, staying put leads you to death also.

On the other hand, the language of "cogito, ergo sum," is misleading. The only subject in that sentence is "I" but the concept of a subject implies that there is something outside that subject. There must be a subject and a viewer for the sentence to make sense.

Oh dear God. I'm going to die a virgin. I'm going to die a wanky, whiny, intellectualist virgin. Son of a bitch. It doesn't even matter if I die today or if I die eighty years from now. Who am I kidding? I might as well get this show over with, since my genes were obviously never suited for Darwinian propagation. I think it was Adam Corolla on Loveline that said, "The more thinking you do, the less poontang you get." I bet I'll get a lot of poontang after they dissect my brain.

Of course, I won't have any pleasure centers left to register it.

I stopped listening to Loveline about a year ago. I just did it to torture myself anyways, since there was never a snowball's chance in hell that I'd have the opportunity to use any of their sage love making advice. I was also always grated by Adam Corolla's raging misogyny. Loveline was always incredibly depressing, because if you listen to it regularly, you eventually realize that there are very many abused women in our society.

The truth of the matter is that I'm a coward and a weakling and I can't blame womankind for wanting to have nothing to do with me. That's not what hurts. What hurts is that so many women would rather continue to abuse themselves than be with me.

Until I started listening to Loveline, everything I knew about sex in those pubescent years I learned from the book Upchuck Summer. My parent were probably the most sex uncomfortable hippy parents ever.

Well, in middle school I did checkout a book all about technique and such at the local library, but a damn lot of good that had ever done me. Learning how to gently break a hymen sure seemed like it would be useful knowledge someday.

I probably shouldn't have been so amused by how Loveline always treated their young callers like crap and their famous guests like Gods. Adam and Drew would let a celebrity rant and rave about liberal politics, but they'd shut down any idealistic young callers. Part of the problem is that I'm sure a piece of what drew me to the show was the patriarchal "we're better than our young, penis brained callers" prattle. That's not to say I want to think I'm better than anybody else, but it has been an impulse that I try very hard to contain with varying amounts of success.

So, the reason Loveline pushed my buttons better than say The 700 Club was because of the whole "If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself" deal that Hermann Hesse pointed out in Siddhartha. I expect retarded political commentary from the likes of Laura Ingram, but Loveline is not a political show. It's a show that fits the very important sex information for youth niche. It's not fair that the only outlet for this niche is also full of closed minded tripe..

They're still pretty good at spotting the fake calls, although a mason jar would occasionally slip by their radar.

I mean, there's always Dan Savage, but he's gay and not just a little gay. Asking him for advice on heterosexual courting is like asking the Family Circus cartoonist to draw you some nice hentai. He's just not interested and he doesn't have any experience in the field.

I felt a light brush of air against my knee. I looked down and a fortune cookie sized slip of paper materialized on my thigh. It said, "Eat me — Cassandra."

Well, if that wasn't strange enough, I suddenly felt a small capsule on the tip of my tongue. I decided that I might as well follow the instructions and swallow it, since I wasn't exactly in a position where I could afford to question mysterious, unsolicited advice givers.

A few seconds passed and the cyan cloud was replaced by the light humming sound of the projection blocking apparatus. I twitched, and the fortune cookie slip flitted down to the ground. I didn't see it, but I sensed the writing on the other side of the paper. It said, "P.S. I'll miss you."

The capsule I had swallowed was a longer shape than the pills that Jaime habitually ingested, but with my renewed sense of mental clarity, I judged that Jaime might have found a way to send me a sumat-like pill that would oppose the force of the blocking apparatus.

I had a vision of the two interrogators running back through a hallway because a sensor had reported the intrusion. "Let me get this straight, the impoverished rebellion has tesseract already? I thought we shut down the communications connection between the Naranjas and the Mind-Space leadership," said the woman interrogator.

"Don't worry, all of that must have been need-to-know information and whoever judged that we didn't need to know yet will be the one that takes the fall if this guy escapes," said the man.

In my mind, I chanted the string of numbers that I had emailed to the next dimension that I was going to visit. I had a brief flash of a scene back at Fowler High School. It was the room that I had US History in during sophomore year. I ended my mediation and opened my eyes and the room shook visually as if my eyes were being degaussed.

I suddenly had the same Godlike feeling of omnipotence that one has when they realize that they're in a lucid dream. I willed myself to float above my body as the two interrogators stormed into the room with a team of surgeons. One of the surgeons pulled out a syringe and started to inject my limp arm with a dozen cc's of a viscous looking fluid. "Oh, for God's sake, we don't have time for this," said the male interrogator as the female interrogator took his hint and grabbed a long, thin blade from the hands of one of the surgeons. She decapitated my body and placed the head on a rolling tray.

It was a terrible sight, but I was emotionally and physically detached from the scene so I felt no empathy for the body and I felt a little apathetic towards the entire outcome.

"It doesn't matter," said the surgeon that had been holding the blade. "He's already gone. We'll just have to settle for examining the leftover wetware."

"Damn it!" said the female interrogator.

I targeted my mind on the thought of Jaime. I found myself back in her dorm room. She was crying and there was a man with her who I immediately, by sense, determined was her dealer.

"The temporal extraction teams have completely erased any trace of your involvement in this operation. I'm sorry that I wasn't straight with you about my allegiances, Jaime, but I didn't know if you were trustworthy," said the man.

"You used me. How can you sit there and say that you and your Mind-Space goonies are the good guys, when you use people like this? You took advantage of me because you thought I was just another junkie who would help you steal your drugs," said Jaime.

"Yes. We're sorry that we used you, but it was for the better good. The Sumat Omega that you obtained will save hundreds of thousands of colonists from the ravages of the Solar Democracy's blockade. The Sumat Omega that you obtained saved your friend's life," said the dealer, who I now understood was a sleeper agent for the Mind-Space Liberation Front.

"But you put my friend in danger to get your drug in the first place," said Jaime, while squinting her eyes in anger. "You used him as a red herring."

"That's not true," said the agent. "Our precognitive experts had determined that he was incredibly determined to see that map, so he would have went there whether or not any of us intervened. The Institute had already been suspicious of him. They would have gotten to him no matter what."

There was a pause and Jaime's anger waned by a smidgen.

"You know you have a choice to make now," said the agent.

"I know. You told me that there would be a sacrifice to be made after you showed me how to tesseract the pill to him. Do I have to choose right away?" said Jaime.

"Yes," said the agent.

"Then I choose to forget," said Jaime.

"Are you sure? I think you would make an excellent double agent for us," said the man. "And you don't have to opt for the mind wipe in any event. We don't force people to give up their memories for our cause."

"But it would be safer for me if I did right? Safer for you as well, right?" said Jaime.

"Yes," said the man. He was honestly concerned for Jaime's well-being, but his utilitarian morals and his passion for the Mind-Space Liberation's causes overshadowed his cares for any particular individual, including himself. I sensed all of this intuitively.

"Then I don't want to remember any of it," said Jaime.

"You are sure? Yes, I sense that. Very well," said the man. "While I'm in there, I'm going to erase your sumat addiction, too. I feel terrible about that."

"It's not your fault. I was on sumat long before I met you," said Jaime.

The man tenderly held his right hand against Jaime's right ear and the two bowed down silently.

I felt the end of the process approaching. Jaime's dorm room faded down into a dot, like someone was turning off an old television. Then, quickly, like a bandaid, I removed the velcro shroud.

CHAPTER SEVEN: Math in the Suzette Dimension

I found myself reattached into my body. I was starring down at a bubble form and I was instinctually swirling my pencil around inside one of the circles.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, indeed. I had escaped torture, decapitation and a gruesome autopsy, but now I was taking the SAT II test for calculus.

I'm actually really, really good at calculus, but I can't stand to take standardized tests. I looked behind me and Jonathan was busily scratching his head and quietly tapping his fingers. Rachel was sitting right behind me, even though I thought she was at least a grade younger than me. I thought about Jaime, but I also realized that Jaime and Rachel really weren't too similar looking after all.

I considered jumping straight into the next dimension that I was scheduled for, but I remembered that I should double check my email first to make sure that I was in the right place.

The College Board is a great example of how society goes and screws up a perfectly good egalitarian ideal. The guy who first thought up the SATs thought that a little standardized testing would break up the aristocratic atmosphere at American universities by introducing a little meritocracy in the works. It makes a lot of sense that introducing a universal metric of collegiate ability would make all the dumb rich kids think twice about wasting their time with academia when they could be biding their time at the family corporation waiting for daddy to kick the bucket and hand down the inheritance.

For better or for worse, the mind is not a machine that likes to be measured. There's no accounting for tenacity, creativity, personal evolution and intuition. The SATs replaced a financially-based academic hierarchy with a hierarchy based on one's ability for rote memorization. Any bubble-based test can be learned, and throwing money at the problem certainly doesn't hurt. Not only do the rich kids get private tutors and unlimited trial tests, but they also live in nicer neighborhoods with better funded schools.

Whoever decided that our education system should rely almost entirely on property taxes was a diabolical genius. Poor people have poorer valued property, pay fewer taxes and therefore have crappier schools. It's not the child's fault that they were born in a ghetto, but the most powerful people believe that it is. After all, the rich and powerful have based their entire self-worth on their abilities for rote memorization and other artifacts of the purely material world. Anyone who lives outside or below their material world must be inferior. It's the divine right of kings, except it's new and improved.

Sometimes the Universe gives you things that you do not deserve. Sometimes you deserve things that you have to take from the Universe by force.

I had nothing better to do, so I sped through the calculus test. And then I wrote a song:

At first I was afraid.

I was petrified.

I kept thinking I could never live

Without my TI-92 by my side.

But then I spent so many nights

Just thinking how you'd simplified wrong.

I grew strong.

I learned how to get along.

And so you're back from orthogonal space.

I just walked in to find you here

Writing the chain rule somewhere you won't misplace

I should have changed my Cartesian origins

I would have made you choose some new axes

If I'd have known for just one second

You'd converge here to ask about Leibniz.

Oh now go.

Walk out the door.

Just turn around now.

You're not reducing anymore.

Weren't you the one

Who tried to break me with cosines?

Did you think I'd crumble?

Did you think I'd forget that a radian is the cosine of two pi?

Oh no not I.

I will derive.

As long as I use l'Hospital

I know the answer will arrive

I've got all my dependent variables to one side

But I've still got a lot of logarithms to decide

I will derive.

I will derive.

It took all the strength I had

To find the tangent of that arc

I'm trying hard to integrate

The pieces of my broken chart.

And I spent oh so many nights

Just feeling sorry for myself.

I used to cry.

But now I hold my formula up high.

And you'll see me with some tangents to do

I'm not that stupid little person

Still trying to solve you.

And so you thought you'd just drop by,

And you expect me to estimate that degree

But now I'm double checking

On an answer that doesn't simplify to e.

There I go.

I found the floor.

Just turn around now.

You're not declining anymore.

Weren't you the series

Who tried to trick me and diverge?

Did you think you weren't bounded?

Did you think I'd miss your monotonic limit because it's high?

Oh not I.

I will derive.

As long as I know how to love

I know I'll be alive.

I've got all my life to live.

I've got all my love to give.

I will derive.

I will derive.

Hey hey.

When the proctor called out that the test was over, the dreary eyed, beaten students shuffled their way to the door. Jonathan came up to talk to me.

"Hey, so how do you think you did?" he asked.

"Good, you?" I said.

"Yeah, figures, you probably did great without even trying," said Jonathan. "Anyways, I've got another test to take, but Suzette told me to tell you to visit her house later. She's got a `surprise' for you."

He put air quotes around the word "surprise," and he winked at the end. Holy crap.

"Okay," I said, nonchalantly. I had already intuited that Suzette was yet another new name for Sara. Jonathan's tone made me wonder if I wouldn't have to go forward several more dimensions in order to find one where Sara's doppleganger and I were intimate. He might as well have added the phrase, "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?" to it.

Then again, I wouldn't put it past Jonathan to screw with my emotions. It wouldn't be the first time he manipulated people for his own amusement.

"See ya," said Jonathan.

I headed down the nearly empty, locker lined hallways towards the front of the school. Michael and Rachel were huddled in a crook in the wall where the pay telephones were. Michael's eyes were red.

"I know I did horrible. If I don't pass that history exam, I'll never get into Beloit with you," said Michael.

I couldn't help but smirk whenever somebody mentions Beloit College. It's the second most amusing university name since Beaver College.

"Uhm, Michael, Beloit isn't really that picky," said Rachel.

"Hey!" he said.

"I mean, you're a shoe in," she said.

Wait a gosh darned second here, I thought Michael and Rachel were only juniors. They should be taking PSATs.

"Hi guys," I said, interrupting by entering their view around the corner.

"Hey Malcolm," said Rachel. "How was that test, huh? Pretty hard, right?"

"Yeah, a killer," I said, lying.

"Yo Malcs," said Michael, faking a smile. "How was your college tour? You just got back last night, right?"

"Oh yeah. Pretty cool," I said.

"Did you end up partying with my friends at Northwestern?" said Michael.

"Oh, yeah, that was pretty cool," I said. Michael has friends at Northwestern? Why was I visiting Northwestern?

"You're being kinda shy today. Oh, I bet you met a girl," said Rachel.

"I've gotta go. I'll talk to you guys later," I said.

"Holy crap, you did meet a girl, didn't you? I was just kidding," said Rachel, beaming widely.

"Bye," I said, while zipping up my coat and walking towards the nearest exit.

There were traces of melted snow on the ground, but it was still melting. This was what? Mid to late October? Perhaps it was a Halloween miracle. Thank you, Great Pumpkin!

I waited for the bus for twenty minutes until I realized that it was probably Saturday and I might as well call home for a ride, since goodness knows if the bus runs on Saturday in this dimension. I went back to the panel of pay phones, but Michael and Rachel had already moved on. I found a couple emergency quarters in my wallet lining and I used one of them to call home.

"Doo doo doo. The number you have reached is disconnected or no longer in service." Drat.

I tried mom's cell phone and I got the voice mail for some guy with a gruff, unhappy voice.

I was supposed to meet Suzette, so I thought about calling Sara's number. I had her number memorized, despite the fact that I almost never called her. In fact, the only time I remember calling her in recent memory was to tell her goodbye before I left my home dimension. Every time I used to think about calling her, I'd have a miniature anxiety attack.

What if she's not home? What if she's with Ribeiro? What if she trips on the way to the ringing phone and hits her head and dies? What if she's busy? What if she realizes how desperate I am for her company? What if she hates me?

Jaime was right, though. The only way to be a good friend is to be confident that other people don't mind being inconvenienced by your needs. You have to take a little in order to give.

Also, what the heck did I care? I would be leaving this dimension soon enough as it is.

I started to dial Sara's number. I hesitated and hung up the phone. I don't know why, but I guess it was just an old habit. I practiced dialing her number while holding the button down and then I tricked myself by quickly releasing it and dialing again.

It rang. It rang six times. "Hello?" she said. I recognized her voice.


"Malcolm! I'm so happy to hear from you," said Suzette. She did sound genuinely happy to hear from me.

"Jonathan said you wanted to see me?"

"Yeah, I missed you while you were gone. I was wondering if you wanted to hang out?"

Wait. Sara's doppleganger was asking me to hang out? That was too easy. I wonder if she's gay.

"Okay. Can you pick me up at the school?" I said.

"Yeah! No problem," said Suzette. "SAT IIs, right? I can't believe you guys. One SAT was enough for my lifetime."

"Yeah," I said.

"Okay, I'll see you in twenty minutes? At the front of the school?" said Suzette with an eager tone.

"Sounds good," I said.


That wasn't so hard.

I threw snowballs at a tree while I waited for Suzette to pick me up. The only good snowball snow was to be found in the cremated remains of various unlucky snowmen and women, and even that snow wasn't particularly sticky or fine.

I missed the tree nine times out of ten. I wonder if I need glasses or if I'm just that sad.

Soon enough, Suzette arrived driving a new beetle. She put the car in park as I climbed in and she turned down the radio, then she kissed me on the cheek. Holy crap.

"Malcolm, I really did miss you. And I've got such great news, I just can't wait to tell you. I didn't want anybody else to spoil it first, and I had to tell you in person," said Suzette.

I remembered Jonathan's air quotes and I was glad that I was wary of his implication, but I was still heartbroken, even though I could have said the words in unison when Suzette explained her surprise.

"Ribeiro and I are getting married!"

I laughed. "That's great!" I lied.

The air in the car hung silently still for a moment, and then Suzette started to drive. When we reached the first intersection, she showed me her ring. It was a sapphire.

"He wanted to get me a diamond," said Suzette. "But he remembered that I did a report last year on the corruption and exploitation of the diamond cartels, so he got me this ring and the new car!"

She continued: "When he proposed to me, he filled the trunk up with coal and he said, `I will bury this coal and when it has become a diamond, my love for you will not have changed,' and then he gave me the ring and he asked me to marry him."

"The thing is, when we met that day he told me he had a big surprise and I thought, `oh my God, he's going to propose,' and then he gave me the car and I thought that was his big surprise and then he proposed and I was totally blown away."

"And the next day, he buried the coal. I told him it was silly and that he didn't have to dig such a big hole or any hole at all, especially in the cold, hard ground. But he dug it anyways. It was very sweet. We also buried a time capsule with all the different objects that symbolized our love."

"Do you want to hear what we buried?" she asked.

"No. Look, we're almost at your house," I said.

Suzette and I were the only ones home. She still lived in a ranch house with her parents and her room was in the back corner. We used to play Tonka trucks in her back yard.

"Do you mind if I use your computer?" I asked.

"No, not at all."

Suzette's computer had a picture of an unbelievably cute kitten frolicing midair through a field of daisies as her background image. The harddrive was loaded to the brim with gory, pirated first person shooters and her screensaver was from The Matrix.

I tried to telnet in to my email account, but I couldn't guess the password, so I logged into Hotmail and checked the message I sent to that account. The numbers matched and I knew I was on the right track to find the dimension where Sara and I are married.

"Oh, by the way, Ribeiro's coming over soon. Okay, I'm going to get in trouble for this, but I just can't wait. He wants you to be his Best Man! Isn't that great?" she said while hugging me from behind.

Oh, yes, twist the knife, Ribeiro, twist the knife. Harder! Faster! Deeper! Keep going! Don't stop! What did I ever do to deserve this from you? You know, besides killing you and making it look like it was a suicide that one time in that one dimension. I closed my eyes and recited the numbers for the next dimension that I planned to visit. The velcro came quickly this time.

CHAPTER EIGHT: An Unnamed Dimension

I was incredibly disoriented from the expedience of the process. I felt the cotton sheets before I could see them, but when I saw them, I saw that they were pink and horribly disheveled. The midafternoon sun seeped through the thin, white drapes and left bright, trigonal patterns across the room where the drapes were parted. "Malcolm, honey, if you're going to hog the sheets you could at least have the decency to hold me after sex," said a feminine voice from behind me. I turned to face the other side of the bed.

She was posed as if she were Olympia from the famous Monet painting and I recognized her face immediately. She was the transvestite from the lesbian karaoke that I visited on my first leap.


Okay, that's not fair. She was incredibly beautiful and if my battery hadn't been recharging, it would have been plugged in again already. The parts were all in the right place and she had curves like the Indianapolis 500.

I handed her one of the sheets that had fallen to the floor. She looked a little insulted as she wrapped it around her body. She sat up with the bare of her back facing me.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

"Do sex change operations hurt?" I answered, honestly.

"I don't know. Probably," she said.

"You don't know?"

"Why would I?" she said.

There was a silence while I was processing this new data. "What are you thinking about?" I asked in order to fill the void. Her back was still facing me.

"I'm trying to figure out how you'll react when I tell you something," she said.

"Oh, okay, do you mind if I go on the Internet now?" I said.

"Jesus Christ! What's wrong with you?" she turned and shouted with great surprise, anger and despair, then she left the room.

I found my pants and boxers hanging on the back of a director's chair in the corner of the room. My undershirt was tangled up in the bed's blue comforter that was on the floor.

I heard a heavy door slam. I explored the rest of the apartment and discovered that the transvestite's doppleganger had gone outside. There was a pink iMac in the living room. The entire place was all doilies and fringe. It was a very stereotypical woman's apartment.

I checked the Hotmail account and, sure enough, it proved that I was still on track for arriving at the dimension where Sara and I would be together forever. I initiated the next jump and the wooden seat I was sitting in momentarily felt like smooth, soft furniture leather.

I opened up the refrigerator and found half of a homemade pumpkin pie and some whipped cream. I finished the pie and it was unexpectedly good. I also finished off a pint of rocky road ice cream that I found in the freezer. My tummy was more than a little content.

I suppose you don't technically lose your virginity if you leap into the body of your doppleganger a few minutes after he finishes having intercourse with a transsexual. That's probably for the best.

I sat down and watched some television. M*A*S*H was on. It was the episode where Radar leaves the 4077 for home and Alan Alda ends up with his teddy bear, therefore signifying that Radar had finally become a man. I also watched the episode of the Brady Bunch where the boys and girls get in a battle of the sexes in order to determine once and for all which sex was superior. I kept flipping channels, but I think the boys won.

I started watching an episode of The X-Files when the woman who lived here returned. She was crying, but I could feel the tears on my cheeks. There was also a postcoital drip that I felt between my legs, which were also her legs.

"Malcolm, I'm pregnant," she said and I knew it was true.

Zing. I guess she never was a he in this dimension after all. Exeunt velcro.

CHAPTER NINE: The David Dimension

I found myself sitting upright on a leather couch in a particularly television-worthy psychologist's office. However, my psychologist wasn't Alan Thick, it was the man who I recognized from the Seattle Center. I remembered that his name was David.

"David, I thought your wife was the psychologist?" I asked.

"As a matter of fact, I'm married to a social worker," said David. "Would you like to talk about the reason why you came here today?"

"So, your wife's alright, then?"

"She's very well," said David.

"I'm glad."

"Me too," said David. "I see that you wrote on your questionnaire that you've been having trouble concentrating? What is that like for you?"

"I guess I wrote that because I don't feel like myself much anymore," I said. Ha, I thought, I bet you can't decipher that hidden meaning.

"How did you used to feel?"

"It's been a very long time, actually. I remember that I used to feel planted. Like I had a home, but now sometimes I feel like I'm outside of that. I feel like I'm outside myself," I said. If only someone else in this room could understand that clever double entendre.

"Why is that?" asked David.

"Why what? Why can't I concentrate, why don't I feel normal and why don't I feel at home? It's because of a girl. Sara," I said.

"Go on."

"It's quite cliche, really. I love her and she loves somebody else and odds are that she still wouldn't love me if it weren't for him," I said.

"Why's that?"

"Because I'm unlovable," I said.

"What does that phrase, `unlovable,' mean to you?"

"It means I'm not good enough. It means I'm not a good man. It means sometimes I can't do the things that I know are right because I'm weak and other times I just don't know. It means that I don't deserve her love, because she deserves better than a boy like me," I said.

"Is that a fair judgement of yourself?"

"I think so," I said.

I remembered a moment when I felt like I was a horrible, useless person. Surrounded by grass, he looked up at me with black, round eyes. His tail was scraggly and still, but his chest moved with heaving, labored breath. I stopped. He was probably attacked by a cat.

It was the middle of the summer and I hadn't left the house much at all since school had ended. That day was the first time in a long while that I was leaving the house to do something social with my high school friends. I had spent hours just talking myself up and directing all my mental energy and focus into making myself prepared to be with them.

I had to make a decision about the squirrel. I was already going to be late to meet my friends at the movie theater and the only bus for an hour would soon pass. I turned to look for help, but I was alone except for a curious fenced-in dog and a distant SUV.

I walked slowly the next few blocks to the bus stop. I wished to miss the bus, but it arrived and I boarded.

My stomach was slightly knotted. For the rest of the day, my head ached with a dull pain: a tension headache due to unconsciously holding back tears.

All I wanted to hear was that everything was going to be okay. Mr. Squirrel was in Heaven. God has a Plan and he takes care of the suffering.

But I'm not a child. I'm not Calvin and I don't have Hobbes as my constant companion and moral sounding board. I can't ask for mom every time there's trouble.

"I feel like I don't have any control of my destiny. Like there are unimaginable, chaotic forces that control my path," I told the psychologist. "On the other hand, I don't believe in God."

David and I talked about depression. I told him that I didn't believe in taking antidepressants and he said that that was okay and that regular therapy is usually the effective piece of treatment, anyways. He also thought that I might be lethargic because of a lack of exercise or a poor diet. We talked about my mom and dad, but nothing really came out of it. After the hour was up, David encouraged me to make another appointment on my way out and he wished me well.

I wasn't too surprised to find myself back in Seattle. I caught a bus back to my apartment, where I looked on the Internet for the email I sent to myself. It turned out that I was in the right dimension and that I was ready to travel into the next dimension. I ran the next dimension's numbers through my mind and I felt a thin metal chain lying around my neck. I opened my eyes and I waited patiently for the process to finish while I played a game of Solitaire on the computer. I had already won and I was just building up the foundations when I felt the mouse ripped away from my hand. The rest of the world soon followed, like velcro.

CHAPTER TEN: The Malcolm Dimension

I found myself sitting on the bed in Sara's bedroom. She had various posters and prints on the wall, as well as, pastel furniture sets that she insisted were forced on her by her mom. There was a Nerf Herder poster, one that said, "Sleater-Kinney is for lovers," a couple anime posters and one that showed the entire cartoon cast of The Simpsons.

I stood up and I nearly fell over. My center of gravity was much higher than I was used to. I looked down, holy crap, I had boobies! And, now that I thought about it, they were fenced in by an awkward feeling constraint.

I felt down below on the outside of my pants. Okay, that's just not right. I looked in a vanity mirror that was built into one of the desks that Sara's mom had bought for her. I saw Sara's face.

Hot diggity dog. I had always secretly dreamt of being inside Sara's body, but this was ridiculous. I guess it was a case of be careful what you wish for, although, I certainly had plans to take this body for a test drive.

Sara's door swung open and Sara's mom, a middle aged woman with black hair and blue eyes and you could tell that she used to have a very youthful beauty. She was also an incredible busy body and she never gave Sara a modicum of privacy while Sara was at home, despite the fact that Sara's every effort proved her own maturity and trustworthiness.

"Sonya, dinner's ready," said Sara's mom, whose name I remembered was Joy.

I was actually very hungry, and the smells that were emanating from the downstairs floor were exhilaratingly yummy. I guess play time would have to wait.

I slid down the banister on the staircase in the manner that I had seen Sara do many times before. The dining room table was immaculately set and I stood at the room's threshold and waited for everybody else to sit down before I determined my seat. I had forgotten about Sara's brown-headed younger brother, since I had only met him a few other times in the past. Sara's dad was a softly built middle aged man, who has gone completely bald over the years.

We ate spaghetti and garlic bread. No one was talking, so I finished my first plate quickly and I reached for another helping and I loaded on the parmesan cheese.

"Sonya, slow down, you don't want to get fat, do you?" said the father, who's name was Carl.

I wasn't sure if he was joking, so I glared at him and piled on another spoonful of spaghetti and another chunk of parmesan cheese. He shook his head. The brother took a second helping without incident.

"Maybe if she gets fat, she won't fit into her wedding dress, wouldn't that be great?" said the mother with great snark. I ignored her. I was almost done with my second helping when there was a knock at the door. Carl sighed and then got up and answered it.

"Sonya, you have a caller. It's Malcolm," said Carl. Oh wow, this was going to be really eerie.

"Tell him I don't want to talk to him," I said.

"Oh no, I'm not going to tell him off. You have to do it yourself," said Carl.

"Poor guy, but at least he's persistent," said Joy almost under her breath.

I wonder what David the psychologist would say about how I had to talk to myself. I got up and met myself in the living room. Malcolm was sitting on the couch, staring at his shoelaces. When I look down like that, it turns out that I have an incredibly unattractive double chin. I should probably look up more often.

"Hi Malcolm," I said in order to get his attention. He looked up and smiled an incredibly fake smile. I could tell he was very nervous, if only because he didn't want me to figure out how nervous he was.

"I heard about Ribeiro," said Malcolm. "I'm so sorry."

"What are you talking about?" I said.

"You haven't heard yet. Oh God, I don't think I should be the one to tell you this," said Malcolm.

"What do you mean?"

"Ribeiro's had an accident," said Malcolm. He jumped out of the seat and reached to grab me. I pushed him off.

"Oh, fuck you," I said.


"Let's go up to my room," I said.

Malcolm raised his eyebrow, tried to continue to look somber, but, secretly, happily agreed.

We entered my room and I closed the door. "I'm not who you think I am," I said.

"Who are you," said Malcolm.

"I'm you. You know what astral leaping is, right? I leaped into this body," I said.

"Holy crap. Holy crap, this is great!" said Malcolm. "So we can skip the foreplay right now, right?"

Malcolm was taking off his shirt, then he said. "Oh, we don't like my chest, do we? I can leave it on," he said.

"What the hell do you think you're doing," I said as he approached me. I pushed him to the ground. He jumped up and pushed back and pinned me to the bed.

"Baby, you know what they say, to thine own self be true. Well, we both know that thine own self never gets any play, so if you need to pretend you're somebody else to get off with me, I totally understand," he said as I struggled under his weight.

"Oh, come on, I know you're as eager to give that lovely, nubile body a test drive as I am," he said, and reached to grope at my chest. I gave him a right hook to the cheekbone, but he kept coming, so I kneed him in the groin. It looked so painful, I almost felt it myself.

"Give me a break! You know more than anything how much we need to do this," said Malcolm. "At the very least you could let me watch you masturbate."

I stepped towards Sonya's jewelry box and Malcolm saw what I was going for, but he was too late. We both knew that she kept a four inch pair of scissors in the case.

"I know what you did. You better get the fuck out of here before I fucking kill you for his revenge," I said.

"Oh please, like you give a rat's ass about Ribeiro," said Malcolm.

"I do," I said. He lunged towards me and I stepped to the right and then pushed the scissors a half inch into the side of his gut.

"Get the fuck out of here, now," I said with a yell. I could hear someone rushing up the stairs to see what was going on.

Carl burst into the room just as Malcolm was turning to leave. They brushed by each other.

"What's going on in here," said the father.

"Nothing, he's just leaving. Could I be alone for a minute?" I said.

"Sure thing, honey," said Carl, who could see that I was very upset. "Let me know if you need anything."

I heard the front door slam downstairs, then I pulled Sonya's iBook out of his dresser and plugged it into the wall.

Sonya's instant messenger account was set to log on automatically. She only had a few contacts listed, but her account was immediately barraged by a ton of men who must have been strangers.

"Will you be my American girlfriend? I like American girls."

"Hey. a/s/l?"

"Wanna hot chat, pretty lady?"

"I saw your web page. U R a Q T."

"Wat up, baby?"

Wow, that was almost as annoying as all the porno spam that I get in my email. I've never had a stranger instant message me who had anything interesting to say. They usually had nothing much to say at all, which is strange, because why did they message me in the first place?

I checked the Hotmail account and learned that I was still on track to get to, hopefully, my new home dimension. I loaded the target's numerals into my circuitry. My nose itched with the deep scent of sulfur. I opened my eyes and the room wobbled.

There was probably still time left, but I didn't feel like touching myself anymore, which was an interesting sensation. I was agitated and maybe even a little horny when I thought about whose body I was in, but I didn't have the same urges. There were urges, of course, but they weren't as dire.

I went downstairs and told Sonya's mom and dad that Malcolm had been violent and that you shouldn't let him come around again. The mother wanted to call the police and the father complained about the seven day waiting period. I told them not to worry, that he wouldn't come back and that he was just not himself at the time. It wasn't a big deal, I said.

I went back upstairs an wrote Sonya a note that warned her about Malcolm, I explained the astral leaping process, but I assumed she had found the technology herself. In fact, there was a folder on her iBook that was full of notes concerning dimensional travel. I told Sonya that I, Malcolm, was also a leaper and that I was usually a good man, but that some versions of me might be incredibly dangerous.

"Malcolm is in love and it's a love that he can not have, and there's nothing more rabid than a man who has nothing to lose," I wrote.

Then the note was ripped out of my sticky, velcro hands.

CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Sandra Dimension

I leaped into a new mind, but it was barely connected to the body. It didn't matter, because I was strapped down, but I was also sedated.

I didn't like this sterile room at all. I figured my best bet was to just leap to the final dimension and just hope that I was still on track. I tried to meditate, but my mind refused to clear.

"The dragon flies at midnight," I said.

"He's getting agitated, I think we should increase his dose," said a voice that I hadn't known was in the room.

"I have sinned. I have sinned and Jesus's parakeet won't forgive me," I said.

Not only couldn't I clear my mind, but it became less and less controllable. My thoughts. Less and less controllable as I tried to concentrate.

There's a moment just before sleep where the random firing of neurons produces nonsense thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts are so absurd that their absurdity awakens and astounds me.

I felt like I was trapped in one of those moments but I couldn't open my eyes.

Little Miss Muffet bought some curds and whey at Walmart, but the security guards hassled her anyways because she dropped her receipt before she left out the doors, I thought.

My mind felt like Swiss cheese and German kraut: Capitalism is an eye socket. Marxism is a kneecap. A wrench in the hand is worth two in the bush. A horse is a horse except for when it's a kangaroo. Where are my monkeys? I was told there would be monkeys.

"I want my monkey, damn it!" I called out.

"Malcolm, you'll feel a small prick," said the lady doctor.

Lady doctors don't have pricks.

I could feel the cubic centimeter of liquid saturating my arm, and my chest and my mind. It didn't help. It made things worse. In fact, I know that it was the problem.

"I think I'm going extinct," I told the lady doctor. The room was fading. I fell asleep, I think.

I dreamt that I was the filling in a ham sandwich. There were two slices of wheat, some lettuce and some ham and I was the slice of tomato, actually. I was covered in dijon mustard and a man drove up beside me and I realized that the ham sandwich was actually a car and the man said, "Do you have any Grey Poupon?"

No. I refused to finish that commercial line. "I am Grey Poupon," I said.

"But, of course," said the man in the luxury car and he took a portion from me.

And then I became the tomato and the mustard. I sped through a red light and I was surrounded by police officers on motorcycles. One of them asked me if I needed any help. "Help! I'm trapped in a ham sandwich," I said.

"Oh, we'll get out of your way, then, sir," said the police officer and they all sped far, far away.

When I woke up, I was sitting in the patient lounge of a psychiatric hospital. I could tell because the people all around me were all freaking nuts. I had no memory about how I'd gotten where I was sitting, but I was avidly watching an episode of CHIPs.

"I am Fonzi. I am Fonzi. I am Fonzi but you are not," the bearded man to my right told me.

"I used to have a crush on Potsie," said the blue-eyed woman to my right.

"Hi. I'm Malcolm. You sound a lot more sane than anybody else here," I said to her.

"I'm Cynthia. Oh yeah, the only reason I'm here is because the black helicopters were following me when I made a left turn from the right lane," said Cynthia.

"That's very nice," I said as I got up and headed towards the exit of the lounge. A black man put his arm in my way. "White trash! White trash!" he screamed.

My white, liberal, middle class boy guilt made me wonder why I wasn't accused of that more often.

"Roxanne, why don't you turn on the red light?" sang a man's voice from the other side of the room and the black man was distracted enough for me to escape his accusations.

There was an employee of the clinic guarding the lounge door. "Malcolm, you look like you're feeling better," said the bulky orderly.

"Yeah. Can I go?" I said.

"Ha," he said. "Nice try, but it's not my call anyways."

"Can I leave the lounge, I mean," I said.

"No, not until your recreation time's up," said the orderly.

"When will that be?" I said.

"Pretty much when your clinician time starts," said the orderly.

"And when?"

"I don't know. Let me check the chart," said the orderly.

He looked at a clipboard and said, "another half an hour."

I sat back down at the television. There was a beer ad on where the hapless alcoholic was suddenly surrounded by beautiful bikini clad women the second he took a drink. The ad's tagline: "The ugly bus leaves sooner when you drink Minington Light."

What if I don't want buxom, bikini clad women? What if I want a real connection to real people, but everybody else is too busy drinking Minington Light to notice me?

"I am the walrus," said the singing man.

I turned to Cynthia and said, "The square root of my penis is negative three."

"Where are my pants," I yelled. "I specifically ordered pants."

I ran up to the orderly. "Waiter, if you don't bring me my pants, I'm leaving this restaurant and never coming back!"

I tried to run down the hall, but the orderly tackled me. He weighed as heavy as he looked. "I need my pants," I said. "I love my pants."

Another orderly injected me with a sedative.

I dreamt of an infinitely large padded room. There was music in the room, but it sounded like pain. Synthesizers made wa-wa sounds and swirling whistles broke down the nerves. There was a disturbingly consistent drum beat that was probably produced by a Casio keyboard. When the drums paused, the music had no beat at all. It was just a series of glowing, wavering sounds. There was a party going on in the padded room, but no one else was around and I had a deadline to finish. I wished that it was actually a party of two, instead of a party of none. I pulled out an old-fashioned typewriter and I started tapping out the Lord's Prayer:

"Our father, which art in Heaven, if you actually exist, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in Earth as it is Heaven, but please don't make it too wrathful. Give us this day our daily bread, but make it enriched with vitamins so we don't die of malnutrition. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from self-denial. For thine is the kingdom, the power and only a little boring. Amen."

Then I started writing an essay about the color turquoise.

I woke up briefly enough to realize that I had been strapped back into the earlier restraints, then I fell back asleep.

I had a second dream, but it wasn't a narrative dream. There was a wavering stream of colors, like it was a calmly flowing river with folded waves. Green, gold, red, blue, green, was the pattern of the waves, but between the dying of the red and the growing of the blue, there was a short speckled purple color. The music returned, but I found it much more pleasant and tolerable than before.

I woke up and stared at the sterile, white ceiling for a long time. I tried very hard to control my thoughts and keep them lucid. When I felt that I couldn't keep lucid thoughts, I meditated on nothingness and had no thoughts.

The lady doctor returned to the room. She reminded me of the lady interrogator from Mars, but that was probably just transference. God damn, all I wanted was a girlfriend, why did I have to suffer all these trails? Girlfriends were a basic human right if I'd ever heard of one.

"Malcolm, you have a visitor, her name is Sandra," said the doctor. "Do you feel up to it?"

"Yes," I said.

The doctor unstrapped me. "Are you sure?" she said.

"Yes," I told her.

The doctor and the orderly from earlier led me down a hallway. The orderly had been waiting outside the door of the room where I was strapped into the bed. When we arrived in another small, sterile room with a table and two doors, the orderly strapped me into the chair there. "The visitor requested this," he said.

Sara's doppleganger entered the room from the door that was opposite the one I had entered from.

"Hi Malcolm, do you remember me?" said Sandra.

"Yes," I said. "I've missed you."

"Interesting," she said. "I haven't missed you."

"How are you?" I asked.

"I think I'll feel much better in a jiff," she said as she pulled a photograph out of her purse.

"Why did you ask for me to be restrained? Are you scared of me? I don't want you to be scared," I said.

"Nope. I'm past all that now, Malcolm, could you please tell me about this photograph?"


"Humor me?" she asked sweetly enough that I had to comply.

It was a photograph of a fountain that was in the middle of a city. It was surrounded by trees, but none of them were green. The sky was dark like coal, but a slight glimmer of sun could be seen in the sky obscured by the dirty air. The fountain wasn't running, but dark, stagnant water lay in the pool below. Four mercreature statutes guarded the fountain in each of the four directions.

I felt the pain of a hundred thousand deaths and more. The picture didn't show it, but I sensed there was once a crucifix in the center of the fountain on its pedestal, where criminals were hung to die. The stagnant pool of water was mixed with blood and the vigilant mobs had the bright idea of mixing some sulfur into the pool, as well, for that great rotten egg, now-you're-going-to-Hell touch. The worst of the sufferers were force fed and cared for just enough to prolong their crucifixion as long as possible, despite the shortage of food and medicine in the city.

I cringed. "Why did you show this to me?" I asked in horror, but I couldn't take my eyes off the picture.

Sandra reached into her purse and pushed a button. The room filled with a shriek that I had heard before. It was the same as the demonic modem handshake that my doppleganger used before to force me to leap, except this one was much more poignant. It felt like someone was taking a cheese grater to my spine while they were filling my ears with hot, steaming lead. As soon as the shrieking ended, the orderly rushed into the room and tried to remove Sandra, but she resisted.

"I banish you to Hell, Malcolm Langley. You killed my lover and I banish you to the fate you created!" Sandra screamed.

"Lady, I don't know what you're talking about," said the orderly. "Malcolm didn't kill anybody."

"He killed Ribeiro. I can't prove it, but I know it's true," said Sandra.

I wanted to hold my ears. Sandra's screams hurt more than the recording. "I didn't do it. You have the wrong me," I called out.

"Bullshit! Bullshit! I've had enough of your lies!" Sandra yelled back. "In the Hell Dimension, they give liars a dose of a drug that gives them a perpetual migraine. It's not poetic, but it works."

The orderly had wrestled Sandra halfway to the door. I felt the world slipping away and I fought to hold on, but I was powerless to stop the terrifying dark velcro embrace.


"Whoa. Hold up there, cowboy. You really don't want to go there," said the disembodied voice.

The sight of darkness is the result of an absence of light. The absence of everything, including sight, is just emptiness. It's like trying to stare out your kneecaps, but you don't have legs. This place was nothing, except for the voice. The voice was all there was, but it was enough.

"I know what you're thinking, but this isn't nothing. There's lots of stuff here, Malcolm. There's everything here, as well as, nothing. You just have to learn to see it," said the female voice.

"Jaime?" I asked into the darkness.

"Well, it's not Santa Claus," said Jaime. "I hope you don't mind this detour, but I was pretty sure that this would be a lot less traumatic than letting you continue to where you were going."

"Yes. I suppose so. Where are you? Where am I?" I asked. I had gotten used to the darkness and Jaime's voice was now comforting to me.

"It's kind of a long story. Me? I'm part of the Everything right now," said Jaime.

"You mean, we're dead?" I asked.

"No no, well, not you anyways. I had this incident. No, no, don't worry. It's one of those things. You know, in your dimension there's a movie called Star Wars and the guy goes, `If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine?' It's kinda like that, so don't worry about me," said Jaime.

"Oh God. You were so young. So beautiful. It was my fault, wasn't it? I'm sorry I left you, Jaime," I said. "I'm sorry I couldn't be more for you."

"Oh please. I thought you were getting over this self-blame stuff, Malcolm. Very disappointing," said Jaime.

"Uhm, I'm sorry?" I said.

"If you could see me now, I'd be smirking at that, Malcolm," said Jaime. "I'd also probably also be buck naked, since you deserve that, too."

"Wow, aren't you the disembodied seductress?" I said.

"Yeah. Old habits, you know?" said Jaime. "Oh, I see. Malcolm, you're wrong about that. That judgement you just unconsciously thought? There's no shame in admiring beautiful things. There's no shame in showing your love, either."

"Well, okay," Jaime continued. "There's a little shame if you show your love by killing the lover of the person you love, but you're not the one that did that. You know that, right? Deep down, right?"

"How did you die?" I asked.

"I see now that you've still got a few lessons to study. Okay, we'll play the gratuitous, morbid details game if that's what you really want," said Jaime. "As you will recall, I had to tesseract the Sumat Omega pill to you because, heh, I was already intimately familiar with the inside of your mouth. You remember, right? The night we spent in the air-lock tunnel while you protected me and then we kissed?"

"Of course. That was very special to me," I said.

"Well, that night, before we kissed, I was channeling the spirit of one of the crew members of the tesseract ship, the SSS Coldare, that the Solar Democracy lost. He was trapped in the Everything like I am now and he was trying to warn me about my future, but he was a few gold bars short of a Fort Knox, unfortunately," said Jaime.

"Warn you about your future?" I asked.

"After you left, I had my memories from the previous few days altered so that the Solar Democracy couldn't discover our exploits with interrogation, but the Institute wasn't fooled. They tricked me into accepting a job as the understudy network noder on the second experimental tesseract ship, the SSS Olympic. They'd lost almost all of their funding, so they figured that the experiment would be a total failure, which, of course, it was," said Jaime. "My body was pulled apart quark by quark and spread across the Multiverse, but it's not as bad as it sounds. It's not like I had to watch my own beheading."

"Yeah, in retrospect, that was pretty gruesome," I said.

"Anyways, I'm going to send you on your correct way now," said Jaime. "And try to learn your lessons, since you're going to be quizzed on them sooner than you think."

"Thank you," I said.

"Just so you know, I'm not going to be your guardian angel all the time. I mean, I would if I could, but that's just not the way things work. You have to take care of yourself, Malcolm. It may seem like other people take care of each other, but in reality, people take care of themselves. Helping others is just one of the most important things you have to do to maintain yourself," said Jaime. "Oh, one other piece of advice. Okay, it's a confession, really. Don't give up your memories, Malcolm, even when they're bad. I regretted forcing myself to forget you, even as it all came back to me when I died."

"Okay, one more thing. I suppose I'm starting to sound like an after school special. You're not unlovable. You're not incapable of love. That was what you were supposed to learn when you met me. We were in love, you know," said Jaime.

I wanted to speak, but I couldn't find any words to pull out of the empty ether.

"I know, you don't have to say it," said Jaime.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: The Love Dimension

At this point, my memory of the previous two dimensions was foggy and patchwork. A dream. I remembered Jaime's presence in the dream, but I didn't know why she was there or what she was telling me. The truth is that my subconscious mind hadn't heeded Jaime's advice about blocking memories.

I thought: I don't know where I am, but this is pleasant. I don't know where I am, but this is pleasant.

John Stuart Mills once said that the moment you ask yourself whether you are happy, you cease to be happy. John Stuart Mills once said that the moment you ask yourself whether you are happy, you cease to be happy.

What the? What the?

Echo. Echo.

Holy crap, my thoughts are echoing. Holy crap, my thoughts are echoing.

The morning sun was rising through the window of the bedroom in an apartment that had the same layout as my own in Seattle. I was spooning with a girl whose raven hair smelled like coconuts and softly tickled my nose. I felt a ring on my left ring finger. The girl was still asleep.

Oh my God, I must have arrived. Oh my God, I must have arrived.

Okay, this is really annoying. Okay, this is really annoying.

Damn it, just try not to think and enjoy the moment. Damn it, just try not to think and enjoy the moment.

The young woman made a murmur in her sleep.

Sweet, sweet Sara, I thought. Sweet, sweet Sara.

Maybe this problem will go away in a little while. Maybe this problem will go away in a little while.

I am. I am. The luckiest. The luckiest. Man. Man. In the world. In the world.

I shouldn't do that. I shouldn't do that.

Sara's doppleganger made another joyful murmur, then she turned around and said happily, yet drowsily, "Good morning, my love."

"Good morning," I said as I petted her hair. I was surprised that I didn't say it twice. She kissed me passionately.

She kisses like Jaime. She kisses like Jaime.

Sara's doppleganger climbed out of bed. She was wearing a plain white set of bra and panties as she walked over to a chair and put on a blue robe. "You were like an animal last night," she said.

"You inspired me," I replied.

"I'm going to fix waffles with strawberries and cream. You want, also?" she said.

"That sounds wonderful," I said.

Like an animal? Like an animal? I am the wolf. I am the wolf. The better to eat you out with, my dear. The better to eat you out with, my dear.

No, she's my wife. I shouldn't think of her that way, should I? No, she's my wife. I shouldn't think of her that way, should I?

Of course I should. Of course I should.

A familiar looking iBook was sitting on the desk next to a white robe that had my name embroidered on it. I put on the robe over my boxers and I booted up the iBook.

I checked my email and the numbers matched. I had arrived in the dimension that I was aiming for all this time. I don't know why I even checked, since I was so incredibly happy exactly where I was. This was my new home.

Echoes be damned, I thought. Echoes be damned.

I looked on the computer for a hint to the doppleganger's name and I found it in a folder titled, "Stella's stuff." There was also a folder titled, "Ribeiro's stuff," a folder titled "Malcolm's stuff," and a folder titled "Stanley's stuff."

I walked into the second room of the apartment. This apartment had a connecting door opposite the bedroom that led into the identical apartment next door. The connecting door was open. Stella was sitting at the wooden dining table that had ten place settings and she was already digging into her waffles. My plate was to her left.

"What took you so long? What? Did you think I was making Belgian waffles?" said Stella. I noticed that the waffles were, indeed, Eggo waffles and that the whipped cream had come from the can that was sitting on the table.

Stella must have noticed my grimace. "Hey, if you want real waffles, make them yourself, Martha Stewart," said Stella as she ruffled my hair.

Her joshing only made me feel more at home. I leaned in and kissed her, without noticing that she was taking a bite of the whipped cream and strawberries. Stella started chortling, and I laughed, too and then she placed a spoonful of cream on my lips and she kissed me back.

"I love you," I said. I felt it, too.

"I love you, too," she said. She was holding my hand.

We exchanged sappy, loving glances as we finished the waffle breakfast, but it felt totally right. She was the only person in the Universe and I felt like she felt the same way about me.

"So, I was thinking we could ride the Merry-Go-Round at the Seattle Center today? Maybe go to the Woodland Park Zoo later?" said Stella. "While the hip cats are away, the mice will play."

"I was hoping for gratuitous sex, but your plan sounds just as good," I said.

"Yay!" said Stella and she kissed me on the cheek. "The sex will come later. Maybe the Zoo will give you some more inspiration."

"Rowr," I said.

John Stuart Mills was wrong, nothing could break my happiness now, I thought. John Stuart Mills was wrong, nothing could break my happiness now.

A lot of his economics were pretty screwy, too. A lot of his economics were pretty screwy, too. Utility starts at home, not in the marketplace. Utility starts at home, not in the marketplace.

"Hurry up and take a shower and get dressed," said Stella. "We have a lot of fun to do today."

Stella gracefully pushed me by the shoulders towards the adjacent apartment and motioned for me to shower in there.

"You aren't going to join me?" I asked as I was herded towards the bathroom.

"Oh Malcy, teasing and waiting is the second best part," said Stella. "Don't be that guy that ruins the second best part."

She blew on my ear and nuzzled my neck from behind.

Teasing and waiting? That's been my whole life and my whole life has not been all that fun, I thought. Teasing and waiting? That's been my whole life and my whole life has not been all that fun.

In order to prevent the double thinking, I sang a song in the shower. The first song that came to mind was "Garden Party."

"But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself," I sang over and over again whenever I forgot a part of the song.

This is one of those songs that makes absolutely no sense and yet a whole lot of sense at the same time, I thought. This is one of those songs that makes absolutely no sense and yet a whole lot of sense at the same time.

"Yoko brought her walrus," I sang. The walrus wasn't actually a literal walrus, I thought. The walrus wasn't actually a literal walrus.

The walrus was a metaphor for the Universe, I thought. The walrus was a metaphor for the Universe. We are all one, interconnected being, I thought. We are all one, interconnected being, I thought. I am the walrus. I am the walrus. You are the walrus. You are the walrus. Goob goob, g'joob. Goob goog, g'joob.

That's why, when you're helping someone else, you're really helping yourself, I thought. That's why when you're helping yourself, you're really helping someone else.

I started singing the "I want to fuck you like an animal" song by Nine Inch Nails, "Closer to God." The thing is, I really hate that song, but it was what sprang to my mind because of the lyrics, "help, help me, help me get away from myself," and the line, "help me become somebody else."

I dried off and got dressed in some clothes I found in the first bedroom. Stella was still in the shower and I could hear her humming the Imperial March from Star Wars. She was already dressed when she left the bathroom.

"All set?" I said.

"Hey, I'm surprised those clothes fit you," said Stella.

Stella drove us to the Seattle Center in a new Volkswagen Beetle that matched the car that Ribeiro gave her in a previous dimension. We talked about Star Wars Episode One.

"George Lucas has either gone to the dark side or gone terribly insane," said Stella.

"Probably both," I said. "The worst part was that it managed to rewrite history and ruin the rest of the Star Wars series for me with the whole midi-chlorians BS."

"You didn't think the worst part was Jar Jar Binks?" asked Stella.

"Well, yeah, that too," I said.

"I think we just have to accept that George Lucas has always written his movies for a childish audience and we only continue to like the old ones because of nostalgia," said Stella.

"Is that how you explain John Hughes' transformation from the creator of the Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller to the creator of Home Alone?" I asked.

"Oh no, that was definitely the influence of pure, unadulterated evil," said Stella.

"And what about Will Smith's transformation from the Fresh Prince to Wild Wild West?" I asked.

"Hey, don't go dissing my boy Will. He's super fine. I'm going to marry him someday," said Stella.

There was an uncomfortable silence as Stella pulled into a parking spot next to the McDonalds. We had been driving around downtown Seattle looking for a spot for almost half an hour. It seemed like a lot of work for a lousy Merry-Go-Round ride.

I was glad to see that the god-awful Experience Music Project was still intact. Architectural genius, my ass. The Space Needle cast its shadow across the amusement park area of the Center. We waited in line and we were among the first in our group who were let behind the fence. The operator looked as if he recognized us.

"No, Malcolm, hurry, we have to sit over here," Stella said, tugging on my shirt sleeve.

Stella straddled a Merry-Go-Round wolf on the Merry-Go-Round's inside and she pointed me towards the lioness to her right.

"This is where I proposed to you, remember? It wasn't that long ago," said Stella as she gently, kiddingly shoved my shoulder.

"I know, I was just teasing you, remember?" I said. Indeed, this was a very good place.

Just as the Merry-Go-Round's mechanical sounds started up, Stella's cell phone rang to the tune of the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

She hesitatingly answered it. "Hi, Stanley? Ribeiro won his first match? That's great, but can I call you back later?" said Stella quickly. "Love you lots, kiss, kiss."

"What was that about?" I said, quite, suddenly worried. I intuitively felt like I was losing her all over again and my stomach felt like it was full of quicksilver.

"Ribeiro just won his first match at the Lucha Libre tournament in Mexico City, isn't that great?" said Stella. "I'm so proud of all my husbands."

All her husbands, I thought. All her husbands.

"You married Ribeiro?" I said.

"Uhm, of course silly. And you and Stanley. What's wrong?" said Stella.

Ribeiro always wins, I thought. Ribeiro always wins.

I should just leave her to him, I thought. I should kill him, I thought.

Wait, that second thought wasn't an echo. It wasn't even my own thought.

"It was my thought," thought the second consciousness in my mind. "I guess we diverged on the opinion as to whether or not to kill Ribeiro."

You're a murderer, I thought.

"You're a pussy," thought the second Malcolm.

There can only be one, I thought.

"Highlander!" thought the second consciousness.

Maybe we should just go our separate ways, I thought.

"The time for negotiations has passed, ha ha ha ha, I have seized control of the right hemisphere!" thought the second Malcolm.

I couldn't move my left arm or my left leg.

"Malcolm, are you okay?" said Stella after having noticed that I was flailing about horribly.

"Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself," thought my doppleganger as he banged our right eye with his fist.

I can stop this, I thought. The quantum circuitry is on my side of our brain.

I now remember just where to send you, too, I thought. I meditated on the photograph of the Hell dimension that Sandra tried to send me to.

"La la la la, you can't meditate while I'm still thinking, la la la la," thought my doppleganger. He was right, I couldn't tune him out.

Maybe we should just compromise on places to go, I thought.

"Connect the dots, la la la la, connect the dots, la la la la," thought my evil self.

The doppleganger's arm was pulling at the hair on the left side of our head. By now, a group of gawkers had gathered around the still Merry-Go-Round and Stella was tugging on my arm, trying to get me to stop hurting myself, then she gave up and called out for help.

I swung out with my left arm and pegged my my doppleganger's arm square in the funny bone, then I punched down and gave his leg a Charlie Horse.

"Hey! No fair!" thought the evil Malcolm.

"Stella, trust me, can you hand me a pen out of your purse?" I slurred the words.

She looked frightened, but she complied. "No, put it in the other hand," I said as I reached out to take the pen from her. It was the fancy space-age metal pen that I'd seen before back in my home dimension.

"This is the song that never ends," sang the voice in my head.

I stabbed the pen into my left arm's elbow joint. Then I stabbed it into the shoulder joint, under the kneecap, behind the knee and into the pelvis on my left hand side.

"Son of a bitch!" said the evil Malcolm through our voicebox.

"What do you think you're doing?" he thought.

Winning, I thought back in reply.

"Do you still trust me?" I slurred to Stella and she nodded. "You need to drive me to this address: 7400 Sand Point Way in Northeast Seattle. It's a clinic."

Stella supported my left side as I hobbled to the car. I was bleeding on her. The crowd was still watching. Someone whispered, "I recognize them. I think they're the couple that proposed here in June."

"David's clinic? What? How do you even know they do hypnotism?" thought the evil Malcolm.

I read it on his business card, I thought.

"Oh, I didn't take one," thought my other self. "Anyways, I still don't think this will work. You can't exorcise me so easily, you know."

I know, I thought. We're both going to be trapped in the Hell dimension.

"Don't you think we could talk about this?" thought the second self. "I think we can share Stella. Sharing her four ways isn't so much worse than three."

I won't let you ruin her, I thought.

"I had accomplishes, you know, this isn't justice," thought the evil Malcolm. "You're just like us."

I know, I thought. This is revenge. Or perhaps something else.

"Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was, and they'll continue singing it forever, just because... this is the song that doesn't end," my alternate self tried to cloud my thoughts as I wrote out a note for Doctor David in the car with the bloody pen on a notepad that was in the glove compartment. Stella drove on to Interstate Five, northbound.

I wrote that this was an emergency and that the doctor had to hypnotize me so that I could remember something that happened at Swann Fountain in Philadelphia. I recalled that that was the fountain from Sandra's photograph. I'd never been there before, so the hypnotic trace would make me remember the dimension in the photo. I'm not quite sure how I knew that was the name of the fountain. It was another fact that I just intuited from thin air, or perhaps from a distant memory.

"It just goes on and on my friends..." said the voice in my head. He was getting nervous.

When we arrived at the clinic, I told Stella to stay in the car and that I still loved her very much, but that she could never trust me again. "I'm afraid I might hurt you," I said. "Or I might kill someone you love."

I hopped on one foot into the clinic. There was a lady psychologist talking to the receptionist when I handed the receptionist my note and I said that David had sent me. The receptionist wanted to call security.

"Wait, I know you," said the psychologist. "My husband, David, was the minister at your wedding. We met you at the Seattle Center when you were proposed to on the Merry-Go-Round."

"Right, you're Gwen, right?" I said. I started to vicariously remember the proposal and the wedding.

"Please, just humor me with a hypnotic trance, and then I'll let you drug me up, call the police or send me to an institution without a fight," I said. It was surprising that Gwen agreed and helped me to her office.

"I don't see what harm it could do," said Gwen.

"It just goes on and on my friends," said the voice in my head. "I can't be hypnotised if I don't want to be hypnotised."

Are you sure about that? I thought.

"Actually, no... Some people, started singing it, not knowing what it was..." replied the voice in my head.

Gwen spun a black and white disc in front of my eyes and told me to let go of myself and just remember a place... A fountain...

The voice in my head fell silent, but I hung on to reality just long enough to initiate the process. I felt my mind split apart, down the middle, as if it were connected by velcro.


"Maaaaalcolm?" asked the voice.

"Yes Jaime?" I responded.

This time, the astral limbo lounge wasn't nearly so much of a void as it was a place where I could be in her embrace.

"Why do you keep making me rescue you from the dimension where bad people send other bad people to be punished?" asked Jaime.

"It was the only way I could save her," I said. "It was the only way I could save myself, it turns out."

"Okay. I see that now," said Jaime. "Anyways, I'm glad you're here. I need to send you somewhere."

"I want to stay here, with you," I said. "Forever."

"It doesn't work that way, Malcolm," said Jaime. "You're not ready yet and, more importantly, Sara needs your help. I'm talking about the same Sara you knew as a child and you're the only one who can fix it."

"She's in trouble? I trust you. Help me go home so I can help Sara," I said. "PS, I love you, too."

"No. Save that. There's someone else I'd like you to tell that to when the time comes," said Jaime.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: A Panty Raid at the Pi Delta Pi House

I awoke in a hospital bed. I sat up and a motion alarm sounded. The nurse came rushing in first, but Sara was also waiting outside.

"I came as soon as they told me that your brain waves were returning to normal," said Sara. She kissed me on the cheek half a dozen times.

"There's some toilet paper in your hair," I said. Sara laughed. "I have some wonderful news Malcolm. Ribeiro and I are getting married. I just came from my bachelorette party. We were playing toilet paper wedding dress. It was really dumb."

I smiled.

"Nurse, do you think he'll be out of the hospital soon? By the end of the week?" asked Sara.

"You'll have to ask the neurologist, but, off the record, I wouldn't be surprised if he left by the end of the day," said the nurse.

"Malcolm, I need your help desperately," said Sara. "Ribeiro and I would like you to be the best man. The wedding is on November Seventh."

She paused.

"Oh God, today's November First, by the way, you've been gone for a very scary two months," said Sara. "Please, don't panic. That's not a lot of lost time in the big scheme of things."

She stroked my hair. "I'm okay," I said. "And yes, I would love to be Ribeiro's best man."

Actually, I lied. I've made at least two decisions in my lifetime that ever mattered.

I could see that Sara was overjoyed at everything. "I was so worried you'd be upset," she said.

"Sara are you ready to go yet?" said a familiar female voice that was peeking in from the hospital hallway. "Oh, whoa, coma boy's back. Welcome to the land of the living. I didn't mean to be rude."

She was smoking a cigarette. "Hey, you can't smoke in here," chided the nurse.

The cigarette was quickly extinguished. "Sorry," said the smoker.

"Malcolm, I'd like you to meet my Maid of Honor. Malcolm, this is my cousin Jaime and Jaime, this is my best friend Malcolm," said Sara. "She flew in from Boston two nights ago."

I mouthed the word Jaime as Sara spoke them. We shook hands.

"Wow, you've got quite a firm handshake for an emaciated coma boy," said Jaime with a hint of a flirt in her eyes.

"When I get out of here, would you like to go to dinner?" I asked Jaime. "So we can touch bases on the wedding plans. I'm going to need help setting up Ribeiro's bachelor party and stuff."

"Woo woo, this boy moves fast," said Jaime aside to Sara. "I like him, can I keep him?"

"We might have to share," said Sara with a nudge.

"So, it's a date?" I said.

"Of course," said Jaime.