Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mr. Perfect (chapters 1-3)

Still lots to go, and this new chapter needs a lot more fleshing out of the pace and description, but you should get the idea...

(Chapter 1 is also reposted here for continuity...)


Chapter 1



"You're perfect for each other!" Jenna purred. "You'll see. Come to the party tomorrow."

Jenna was always trying to set me up with someone. In her mind, the fact that I was nearly forty and never married was just a perverse desire on my part to flout society, nature, and God. It Just Wasn't The Way Things Are Done.

But she's my friend, and I love her. Most of the time. "All right. I'll go. He better be cute."

"He is!" she beamed. "You won't be sorry. Oh, this is going to be fun!" Jenna gave the obligatory air kiss and waved goodbye with a grin.

It's not that I'm against marriage. I like guys. Lots. But it just never seemed to work out into someting long term. And I just didn't see why it was so necessary, anyway. I had tons of friends, a great social life, a good work life, a pretty good sex life - I liked my life.

It just seemed that most of my relationships ended upon discovering some killer flaw, previously unnoticed, that quickly quenched any urge to "live happily ever after." Some of my friends say I'm too picky, but I really don't think that's it.

Take the last guy Jenna had set me up with as a case in point. He was a real prince. After splitting the tab at dinner, he decided we should walk the 10 blocks back to my car rather than take a cab. Ok, frugal, nothing wrong with that, right? I can deal with that - I had my own income, I didn't need to depend on him to buy cute clothes.

About 5 blocks down, my shoes in my hand and my feet starting to hurt (Manolo Blahnik, okay? I wasn't going to wear them out hoofing 10 blocks through downtown), he decides he has to go to the bathroom. I mentioned the McDonalds we passed a few blocks back, but he doesn't want to backtrack, noooo. He wants to find a tree! Like he was a dog or something!

So there's Rover taking his wiz behind this toothpick of a tree, the stream splashing onto the sidewalk on either side. I'm standing there barefoot, concentrating on making sure my feet stay out of the sudden creek that was forming. People are walking by, averting their eyes in amazed horror, and I'm pretending not to know this guy, but it's not working because he's still talking to me!

After about a century he's done, and as he walks around the tree he's wiping his hands on his shirt - then he puts his arm around me. Pee hands! Yuck!

I rapidly explained that I just remembered that I was on my period, and could we please stop for some tampons? And oh yeah, I'm out of money, so would you mind going into the store and buying them for me? The date ended quickly.

Anyway, after my date with Mr. Classy, my expectations weren't too high.

The next night I put on a cute skirt with these great shoes that matched like they were made together. I looked in the mirrow. "Not bad for a nearly but not yet I still have a few weeks yet forty year old" I thought. Blond, trim, and cute jewelry - who could resist? I race triathalons and kept in pretty good shape - my friends tell me I look like I'm thirty. That's why they're my friends.

I got to the party, and saw Jenna and her husband in the corner with a really cute guy and a couple young hussies fawning all over him. Jenna caught my eye and mouthed "this is him" while pointing from behind his field of view. But not out of view of the competition, who immediately looked around and gave me "uh uh, girlfriend - we've staked this one out." Carnivores.

Inside I gave a little shudder, but outside I put on my beaming bright how-can-you-resist-smiling-back smile, marched on over and gave Jenna a hug hello, accidently bumping one of the meat-eaters to the side. Jenna completed the tag team by giving a quick hip to the other one, while saying "Jewel, honey, I want to introduce you to Frank Roberts."

So the cute guy was Roberts? I believe I was supposed to say "ooh, Frank Roberts, the producer?" and look all wide eyed. "Hello Frank. How are you?" I said coolly

Frank smiled broadly. "Much better now that you're here. You're that hot girl Jenna was telling me about, right?" Man-eater one and two gave me the Look Of Death, and turned to walk off. Frank didn't give them a second glance. I have to say, I was not put off by Mr. Roberts so far. Nope.

Frank turned to the side. "Jenna, you didn't tell me how incredibly good looking she is!" He looked at me out of the side of his eyes. "Or maybe she did," he said, then winked. Winked?

Ok, nobody's perfect. He was still really cute. And obviously had great taste.

"Flattery may get you somewhere, Frank." I smiled. "But a drink might get you there quicker."

He looked startled, then laughed loudly. "Coming right up!" And then with a gleam, "And so is that drink," then turned to go to the bar.

Jenna was grinning at me. "What?" I said.

"'What?'" Jenna mimicked. "You know what. You like him."

"I don't even know him"

"But you're already flirting with him."

"So what? I'm at a party with cute guys. I flirt. It's what I do."

Jenna kept grinning an shook her head. "Then I'll leave you to your work."

"Come back and rescue me if I give you the high sign, okay?"

"Sure. What's the high sign tonight?"

I thought briefly. "How about I do that Meg Ryan thing from "When Harry Met Sally?"

"You mean that screaming orgasm thing?" Jenna giggled. "I almost hope I get the high sign - I'm sure it would make a great party story."

Frank came back with a drink, and Jenna scooted off. "Here you are, Ma'am. One of my world famous RAMs."

"Ram?"

"'Robert's Amazing Margarita' - guaranteed to make all your wildest dreams come true."

I smiled. "Okay, Pedro. Here's to dreaming," and took a big gulp. And immediately got brain freeze. I hate that.

A friend once told me that if you get brain freeze, then slapping the top of your head with the palm of your hand a few times makes it go away. It sounds (and looks) stupid, but it really does work. So I did it.

Frank grinned. "Brain freeze, huh?"

"Hmm hmm," I said, whapping my head. "Ah. That's better. You know that trick, huh? Good Margarita. Thanks."

"You're very welcome. And very funny. And really cute."

"I think you used that one already. But you can say it again if you want to. And thanks."

We stood there for a moment, staring at each other. I don't know how long this lasted, but it wasn't awkward. The noise of the room just faded away, and we were in our own private cone of silence. I could smell his cologne, which was some unusual, earthy smell, like trees, or autumn - it wasn't distasteful at all, but it was very different.

Frank glanced around, then said very quietly, "Come with me for a second. I want to show you something." He turned, and I followed.

Why? I have no idea. I'm not in the habit of following strange men back into their house, but for some reason it just seemed like the thing to do.

We walked out what must have been a back door, although it was a very unusual door. Heavy, wood, and carved with a scene from a forest glade, surrounded by trees, covered in leaves. Very detailed.

It opened quietly onto a moonlite glade that looked remarkably like the scene from the door. I was a bit bemused thinking about the combination of carpentry, landscaping, and money it must have taken to put that together. He stood with the door open and beckoned me to go out.

I stepped out into the glade, my feet very quietly crunching the leaves on the ground, which was lit by a bright orange harvest moon. The noise from the party was non-existent out here.

I heard the door shutting softly, and turned around. And then felt suddenly dizzy and almost fell. I couldn't see the house!

Oh, silly. It must be one of those trompe l'oiel things - a painting on the side of the house to fool the eye, to look like the other side of the forest glade. Just another interesting detail to complete the theme so carefully begun with the door carving.

"How do you like it?" came a voice from behind, right next to my ear. I jumped slightly, and turned.

"You startled me..." I started to say, but Frank wasn't there either. In fact, I didn't see Mr. Starting-To-Creep-Me-Out anywhere.

Great. Another freakazoid that likes to play with girl's heads. "I'm going back inside, wherever you are. I don't like these kinds of games." I stomped back to where I thought the door was, but still found myself in the glade. I must have gotten turned around.

I slowly turned back. The trees looked very much alike on all sides. The trompe l'oiel was very good. I couldn't tell any longer which was the house, and which were the real trees. "Okay, fun's over. Please let me back inside the house now."

There was only silence.


Chapter 2



I closed my eyes. Ok, Jewel. Just stop, I told myself. Get it
together. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes.

Trees.

Crap.

All right, the glade looks pretty circular. I should be able to just
start at any point, then walk around the circle until I feel the door
again.

Feeling better about having come up with a logical plan rather that
the little girl panic I had felt rising up, I started walking again.

And walking. And still walking. I wasn't sure how big the circle
was, but I was pretty sure I had been around it at least once, maybe
twice. And no door.

Ok, logical grown up girl. Next plan? I sat down to think.

What I was experiencing was not physically possible. So my
perceptions must be wrong. Maybe the drink? It was that bastard
Roberts - he put something in my margarita!

I didn't feel drugged. But there was that little bit of dizziness a
while ago. And who knows what kind of drug it was, or what it does.
Which means that I really have no idea where I am, or how long I've
been here, or if my wonderful logical ideas are for shit because I
just can't think straight.

But sitting around waiting to be saved wasn't my style, so I tried a
few more ideas. I shouted for a while, but didn't hear anything, and
no Prince Charming came riding up on his Harley to save me. I walked
a little bit into the trees, but didn't go too far because I didn't
want to lose sight of the glade - I was lost enough as it was. I
broke my margarita glass, and used the shard to score a tree so I
could use it as a landmark.

I walked around the circle again, scoring every five trees so I could
get an idea of when I'd made it around the circle. After about ten
times of this, the last time cutting my hand with the glass shard when
it slipped, I cursed and sucked on the blood and looked around.

I couldn't see any of my marks. Not on any tree except the one I had
just been carving on before it carved me back.

I sat down and pressed my eyes shut. I didn't want to cry, but a few
tears leaked out anyway. This was just so frustrating!

"Ah, yes. Blood. Sweat. Tears." That voice again, deep, quiet,
seemingly coming from right behind my ear. "We have enough, child.
You may go."

I opened my eyes, and where I had sworn there was a tree, there was
now a door. The door I'd been looking for the whole damn night. I
looked at my hand, which had a trickle of blood running down, dripping
onto the leaves. If there was no tree, then how the hell did I cut my
hand?

Fuck it. I'm outta here. I grabbed the handle on the door, and it
opened as easily as could be.

I ran down the hallway, and heard the sounds of the party ahead, which
was surprising since I had been gone for hours! Or I guess it just
seemed that way, because everything was pretty much still in full
swing when I reentered the room.

I looked around. It was much as I had left it. The bastard host was
back in his original corner, with Little Slut One and Little Slut Two
surrounding him like he wasn't going to get away this time. I started
to march over there to start the screaming hissy fit I had prepared,
when Jenna grabbed my arm.

"There you are! One second I help you snag Frank Roberts, and the
next you're nowhere to be found and the attack of the killer
mini-skirt twins starts up again."

“Fuck Frank Roberts,” I snarled, then paused. "Wait - how long was I gone?"

"Less than a minute, I guess. But you know you can't leave an opening
like that when there's blood in the water." Jenna started to scold, then trailed off and looked worried. "Speaking of blood…what did you do to your hand?"

"I cut it. On a piece of glass." In the middle of a forest. In the
middle of nowhere.

All in the last minute?

Jenna looked really worried now. "Are you feeling okay, hun?"

I suddenly felt cold, and just wanted to get out of there and go home.
"No. I don't think I am. I'm just gonna go, okay?"

"Sure. You want me to drive you?"

Yes. "No, I'll be okay. I just don't want to bleed all over
somebody's cocktail dress." I gave her a quick air kiss. "Bye."

"Call me tomorrow and talk to me, okay?" Jenna said as I started past
her for the door.

"Okay," I called back over my shoulder. "Tomorrow." However long away that is.

I don't remember the drive home. Scary how autopilot driving can be
sometimes, where the conscious you goes away someplace for a time,
only to come back and realize the zombie you was driving the car the
whole time, and apparently doing a good enough job of it not to get
arrested.

Chapter 3



The next morning was awful.

I’d had strange dreams all night, and didn’t feel terribly rested. My hand hurt. And my ire was up, and my courage along with it.

Standing under the shower, I decided I would call Roberts and let him know all the ways I though he could insert his cocktail glass…no, that would be letting him off too easy. I’d go over there and confront him directly.

The angel on my left shoulder told me that she didn’t think that was such a great idea – after all, he had already proven himself dangerously irresponsible, and I could be walking into the lion’s den. However, the devil on my right shoulder was adamant that I was tough, confident, and that the satisfaction of seeing him cringe before my mighty wrath was worth the risk. The angel said I should at least leave a message with Jenna letting her know where I was going in case there was a problem. I decided that this was a reasonable compromise, and thanked devil and angel for working it out so maturely.

I walked out the door to my car and was starting to call Jenna on my cell when I was startled by the “Yip!” of some little dog right behind me – you know, the kind with more bite than brains, that’ll bark at anything bigger than they are saying “C’mon, I can take ya!”. However, as I looked over to see the little yapper and give him the evil eye, I saw instead a Doberman. Not exactly your every day Chihuahua.

The incongruity broke the tension somewhat, and I actually started chuckling. “Scare many burglers with that big bark of yours?” I asked him. In response, he gave a deep “woof!”, more like you’d expect from a dog of that stature. For some reason, I found this even more amusing. “Don’t worry, honey, your voice will stop changing when you finish puberty.” I was still smiling as I got in the car.

On the drive over, I realized that the after effects of whatever drug Roberts had given me hadn’t quite worn off yet. I passed by a house I pass every day, only its color had changed from its usual beige to more of a taupe. A corner I could have sworn had a stop sign yesterday had a light today. And a little boutique I had been thinking about visiting to see what lay beyond this oh so cute top in the window had changed its name.

It’s perceptions, I thought. This drug messes with your perceptions in subtle ways, perhaps cross circuiting images from memory with those from the eyes, or vice versa. Either way, it was disconcerting, and fueled my growing fury to a satisfying degree.

I pulled up to Roberts’ house and strode up to the door. Just as I was about to knock, the door opened of its own accord.

“Roberts? Hello? Who’s there?” I asked, since it wasn’t apparent who had opened the door. There seemed to be no one there.

This is bullshit, I thought. He’s already trying the same crap again.

“Roberts, you asshole, come out here and face me like a man!”

“If you insist,” came a quiet voice from behind the door. Roberts stepped out, pointed something at me, then came a burst of white noise and a bright flash. I must have become unconscious, because the next thing I could see was that I was lying down on a couch in an unfamiliar room. I tried to sit up, but I had trouble focusing on anything. I started to swoon and feel a bit sick, so I laid back down.

“I want to thank you for coming out to visit. It makes everything so much simpler.”

Roberts. “Don’t get into shit any deeper than you already are, Roberts,” I said as threateningly as I could. “My friends know I was coming out here today, and they’ll miss me.”

I saw Roberts step out of a shadow and into a splash of light. But he too looked wavy, so I closed my eyes. “Don’t concern yourself about your friends, Jewel. They’ll never know you were gone.”

I had no clue as to what he was talking about. But then, I have read that psychopaths can create their own view of the world in their head, and worry very little about reality intruding.

“What do you want!” I shouted.

“A reasonable question. And although I doubt it will help, perhaps a little explanation can help you to help me.”

I heard the squeak of a chair on the floor, and the rustling of Roberts settling into it. I risked a squinty eyed look at him.

“What you just did, with very little apparent effort, requires a building’s worth of equipment back in our verse,” Roberts began.

“What did I do? And what’s a ‘verse’?”

“ Multiverse. Verse. One of the infinite other versions of the universe.” He sneered. “You really don’t know anything, do you?”

“No. I don’t.” Idea. “So if I don’t know anything that can help you, there’s no reason to hold me here, is there?” I attempted the calm voice of reason.

“Oh but there is.” He came around the table, pushing his face close to mine. “We need you for what we can learn from you. But the knowledge we seek – it’s hidden. In your blood, your skin, your sweat.” He took my hand, which I immediately snatched back. He didn’t seem offended. “Somewhere in you lies a capability that many would kill just to understand.”

Reason flew out of the room as the pent up anger and frustration of the last 12 hours boiled over. “I’m sure you wouldn’t hesitate to kill, would you, you bastard?” I snarled.

“He smiled, his too white teeth coming together like a shark’s bite. “We already have.”

“Killed?” Uh oh.

”Hesitated.” His grin turned to a frown. “We don’t know the exact mechanism for how this technology works. If it happens to require some interaction with your biochemistry, well then, killing you prematurely could interfere with our goals.”

Prematurely kill me? That made it sound like a foregone conclusion, awaiting only the discovery of what was behind door number three before completion. If I were a pessimist, I’d start to feel discouraged right now.

I just couldn’t let them get a look behind that door. Wherever it was. I needed to keep him talking until I could think of a plan. He seemed to like being pedantic anyway.

“So you really think you’re from a different universe, huh?” I asked him. “How do you figure?”

“It should be obvious to you after having just focused through about ten verses in the span of a few minutes on your way over here.” At first I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. He stayed silent, and I started thinking about the dog again. And the store.

He waited a bit more, then looked disgusted, but started to elaborate. “The…universe, if we can call it that, is made up of an infinite number of versions, each differing from the other only by the outcome of a quantum probability event. Do you understand this much?”

“Sure, I might have heard something like it on PBS.”

“In a tremendous number of these verses, a number so large that using infinity as an approximation works well in the equations, there is…you. And me.”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m here. Now. Just me.”

“You’re here. And you’re also in each of these other verses, having the same conversation. As you reach verses further from yours in terms of quantum branches, the conversation would start to be slightly different. You would start to be slightly different. As would I.”

Ok, standard science fiction fare. Multiple universes. Copies of me, and apparently everybody else too. “Got it. But if there’s already a me in each of these, then how could I have possibly traveled between ‘verses.’ What would have happened to my twins?”

In what seemed like an abrupt change of subject, he asked “Do you how consciousness works?”

I looked away from Roberts and started looking around for a door. “No idea. I just know that I am. Conscious.” I looked at him sidelong. “Not so sure about you.”

He smiled. “You shouldn’t be too sure about anyone.”

“Why? What do you mean?” I started looking around again for the door, or something I could use to smack him up the side of his whacked out head.

“You actually share your consciousness to a degree with all of your dopples – doubles – with the degree of overlap again coincident with the degree of closeness of the verse.”

He abruptly stood, and I looked back at him. He came over to the table and once again moved close to fill my field of view. “Have you ever wondered how it is that suddenly an idea can come to you out of the blue? Haven’t you ever experienced déjà vu, where you could swear you had just seen or heard something before? Well, you had. Just not in your particular verse.”

“So I’m somehow communicating with all these other me’s?” I asked. I shouted out to the ceiling, “Hello little me one and little me two – can you guys help get me outta here?”

He smirked. “They probably could, which is why this room has a strong interference wave set up. It continuously introduces additional noise into the quantum background that it is next to impossible to achieve the synchronicity you need with another you to make the switch.”

Jabber, jabber, jabber. “So I just somehow synchronize with this other me, and I just pop on over into this other universe?”

“You don’t actually pop anywhere. Not physically. Your focus of attention moves.”

“Say what?”

“Your focus.” He looked to the side and frowned. “You know nothing of consciousness theory. How to explain to such as you?”

He paced about for a bit while I snuck another look around. Nothing except wavy shadows, everywhere. He stopped and continued. “Have you ever been driving, and found yourself at your destination without remembering how you got there?”

I thought back to my drive home last night. “Maybe.”

He smirked. “You have. Your body, your mind, work just fine on their own for many tasks. But your focus…your focus is something different, something apart, and is the something that makes us sentient beings who can be aware of ourselves and question the universe.” He paused and looked deep into my eyes. “Some of us still use the word ‘soul’ to describe this essence, this true self.”

Oh my god. Another religious cult. Some backyard chemist discovers a new hallucinogen, and all of a sudden all his followers are having out of body experiences. Or out of mind, in this case.

I sat up suddenly and screamed into his face, “I. Want. OUTTA HERE!!!”

And then I was.

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