Sunday, August 27, 2023

“Floating Toward the Sun” • by Jason P. Burnham


I feel the pressure drop of multiverse connection, but I don’t turn to greet the traveler; I already know who it is—me.

“Where are we, Paul?” asks my doppelgänger.

“Isn’t the sun beautiful?” I say, tearing my gaze away from the picture of Paz, the wife I had to leave behind without telling her I was never coming back, lest she try and stop me. I stare at the ship’s sun-shaded viewscreens. Yellow, orange, and red variegations obliterate the blackness of space; tendrils of solar flares beckon.

“Why aren’t we on Earth?” asks alt-Paul. There’s a surprising paucity of emotion in his tone, though I suppose you’d have to be rather heartless to hunt down every multiverse version of yourself to achieve immortality.

“I knew you were coming.” I turn to face myself. I look pissed. And covered in red-brown sludge.

“How?” He narrows his eyes.

“Colony collapse disorder,” I say.

Alt-Paul spits. “Bees gave me away?”

I nod. “In this timeline, I’m a mellitologist. My life’s work was colony collapse disorder. I started having visions of you, trying to break into this timeline, inching ever closer.” I pause, remembering the horrid nightmares, the sticky muck that was dreamscape multiverse afterbirth. “I pinned the timing on your traversals—you were altering their buzzing frequencies somehow. That part I never figured out, but I knew you’d be coming. And I knew it wasn’t for a social visit.”

I watch him carefully. He stalks the bridge, eyes searching intently for something, but he doesn’t speak. The crimson red of his face suggests he does still have emotion left in his heart and that that emotion is fury. 

“If it’s navigational controls you seek, you won’t find any.”

He sneers at me, some of the red draining from his face. What an awful countenance. Is that really what I look like? Can it be that my hair is so scraggly and gray, my beard so moth-eaten?

“What do you mean there’s no controls? Who’s piloting this thing?” asks alt-Paul, spittle accumulating at the corners of his lips.

I touch my hand to my face. Surely those anger lines, bags under the eyes are his, not mine.

“Answer me!” he shouts, stomping closer.

I shudder to think that this is what others have faced when I raised my voice. I tried to be a good person.

“It’s on autopilot,” I say, flipping my hands palm up and shrugging.

“Turn. It. Off.”

Alt-Paul is within striking distance, though I have no desire to fight him. Not that his killing me would matter; our course can’t be altered.

I swallow the consternation. “It’s impossible. The trajectory was set when I left. There’s no comm array, no way to communicate with Earth to turn us around. This is a one-way trip.”

He charges me and I hesitate for a moment, wondering if I really want to give him the satisfaction of killing me. I’d so much rather the sun do it.

My hesitation is just long enough that I can’t sidestep him and alt-Paul tackles me to the floor.

I knee him in the groin and knock the wind out of him. He rolls on the white metal floor, holding his testicles, and struggling to get air, occasional croaks escaping from his throat.

I hustle across the bridge. I’m not going to hide, but with who knows how many alternate timeline Paul’s subsumed within him, I don’t want to test his strength.

He leaps from the ground into a fighting stance.

“That was dirty.” He spits onto the floor.

A thought strikes me, but I’d rather not voice it directly. “Am I the last one?” That’s the sense I got from the nightmare visions. That would explain why he doesn’t just traverse to another timeline right now.

He sneers again. “It doesn’t matter. Now if you’ll kindly come here, I need to get to absorbing you into my being. It might help me survive this trip you’ve got us on.”

I scoff at his hubris. The bridge warms by the second. The viewscreen is completely filled by the sun—we’re so close it resembles a honeycomb. I smile at the apian view and the picture next to the viewscreen—Paz’s beautiful face. I hope she forgives me. I wish I could have said goodbye. There was no other way. She wouldn’t have let me go and if I had stayed, alt-Paul would have ruined the planet.

“What are you grinning at?” alt-Paul asks.

In the encroaching heat, I sit and pat the seat next to me. “Come. Enjoy the view. We’re going to get real hot soon.”

“You’d sacrifice yourself?” other Paul asks.

The walls warp in the heat. A honeycomb pattern of imminent red-orange hull breaches ripples down around us.

“For Paz, I’d fly myself into the sun.”


Jason P. Burnham loves to spend time with his wife, children, and dog. Find him on Twitter at @AndGalen.

If you’d like to read more of Jason’s stories, we have lots more on this site, all at this link.


Pete Wood said...

You know, that damned Alt-Pete causes a lot of trouble around these parts. Whenever I don't remember making a promise to my wife or forget about a chore, dollars to donuts Alt-Pete has been meddling again. He should stay in his own timeline where he belongs.

Made in DNA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Made in DNA said...

Aces. What would one do against an Alt-Self? I think an Alt-Self would be the easiest of all foes to want to stop. An Alt-Child would be the most difficult. And may I say, I love your icon? Not sure what it is, but there is just something about it that reminds me of myself.