Or, I May Be From Another Dimension.
Last night I had one of the strangest dreams I've had in a long while. It ended so perfectly that when I woke up, I actually laid there for a few moments blinking at the coincidence it posed. When I say 'perfectly', I mean so from a writer's standpoint, not that the story had a happy ending. I guess I should say, it ended so well, considering it was just a dream, that it surprised me a bit.
The entire progression of events was based on a somewhat complicated premise, to begin with. It involved parallel universes. Of course, any time you mess with interdimensional anything, things start to get confusing real fast. However, I spent the next fifteen minutes after I woke up lying in bed and figuring out the particulars based on what had happened in the dream itself, and how. Of course, it's all speculation. I'm no scientist.
First of all, the dimensions. In this universe -- or, I should say, multitude of universes -- there is not one, but an infinite number of what I've heard called space-time continuums. Within each continuum is its own cluster of parallel universes and dimensions. These dimensions have varying levels of similarity, measured as 'distance' based on just how different one dimension is to another. Two dimensions with very similar event and populous chains are nicknamed Parallel Universes, while two dimensions with more obviously drastic differences are referred to as Alternate Dimensions. Cross dimensional travel within a continuum cluster is safe as far as the continued course of space and time goes.
If your head hasn't exploded yet, here's the dangerous bit. Cross Continuum travel is regarded as taboo. Though it's been discovered that other continuums, and consequently other universes/dimensions within those continuums, it has been discovered that travelling between the continuums causes mysterious ruptures in the continuum fabric. While not fully understood, terrible results have occurred in some cases, while in others nothing notable has changed. In all, however, the traveler was never heard from again. In response, Cross Continuum travel is forbidden, at least until the process can be better understood, and predictable, and safe, methods can be established.
To the average person in a given continuum, the knowledge of dimensions and travel and studies of both are unknown. Only those few scientists, their families, and those directly affected by a traveler realize these things exist.
Another thing I ought to mention is the matter to consciousness connection. This one is a little more difficult to explain, but basically it means that if a person switches dimensions, their twin in the universe they are transferring to will switch places with them. At a certain level, one cannot occupy the same dimension as one's parallel self. There's another aspect of this phenomena that I can't quite grasp yet, but once I figure it out, I'll write it down. It has something to do with oneself being an entity of its own and not a fixed part of any given dimension, or even continuum. I think....
Anyway. Onto the story.
I am Penny Kearney, and I am a journalist. At least, I was. Now I write short stories inspired by the life of my husband, Clark. But I never lost my journalist's curiosity, or tact. This comes in quite handy, as Clark came from a Parallel Universe, and currently lives in an asylum.
It's very possible you would draw the same conclusions as the doctors about my husband. He's insane, plagued by delusions that he is, in fact, Clark Kent. Yes, the very same from the comics. Indeed, with the same powers. Before my husband arrived, taking the place of the man who'd occupied his place in the asylum before him -- his parallel self -- these claims were ridiculous. I know; I covered the story.
The man's real name was Leonard Harris. It was in 2012 that he escaped the asylum. Or rather, disappeared from it. Vanished without a trace, as the front page headline read. My work. I was bursting with pride and excitement. Of course, the mystery itself fascinated me as much as seeing my own name signed under the illustrious article. Though I thrived on titillating facts, my imagination never ceased to run free on the side. An inside job? Supernatural influence? All those tales about the asylum being used as a prison for the sane as much as the insane? A botched cover up for a murder? I could think of a million front page possibilities, and determined to chase every one of them until I got to the truth. Were foul play at work here, I vowed justice, or at the very least exposure of the criminals.
Then I met Clark. I wish I could say we met dramatically, that I got in too deep and he saved my life, or he dropped literally from the sky to demand I stop my meddling, but our meeting was, though surprising, quite ordinary.
On Monday I do my grocery shopping. That is, if I manage to convince myself not to put it off until Tuesday. One must eat, however, and that is a very good motivator. Pushing my small cart in front of me, I wandered through the grocery store thinking only just as much as necessary about my task in order to spare the rest of my thoughts to the two articles I had neglected to write last night. I hated deadlines, but I knew if I didn't have them I'd never finish anything. And that would be a shame. There were so many stories to tell.
It was precisely because I was so absent minded at the moment that I failed to notice the jenga-style placement some store employee had lent to the oranges in the fruit section. Spying one I wanted, I pulled it from the pile, and several other eager oranges proceeded to tumbled free to the ground. Needless to say this was enough to break me from my reverie. I muttered self accusation under my breath and apologized to the person standing nearby, whose feet had been the unlucky landing spot for a few of the fruits before they rolled towards the apple stand.
I didn't really hear his response, crouching to pick up my mess and scuttling after the escapees. When I caught as many as my hands could hold, I straightened to return them. He had also nabbed a few and placed them back on the stand, and after I set mine beside his, ensuring they were well ensconced to prevent further embarrassment, I glanced a thanks and a smile in his direction.
"You're welcome." He replied.
He had a nice voice, and I afforded him another look. That was when I recognized him. It clicked in my mind -- I had his picture pinned to my cork board in my office and had stared at it at least a thousand times when I wrote the first article -- even with the thick rimmed glasses, shorter hair, and glittering eyes nothing like the sad, glazed eyes of the man in my picture.
I recall blinking several times and attempting to find the right way to open a conversation that would lead me to answers. But the other thing I remember distinctly was the trace of surprise in his own expression.
He spoke first. "You're Penny Kearney, aren't you? The journalist?"
I managed to contain the sudden burst of excited curiosity. I didn't know who was watching. Or listening. "Yes, that's me. I'm sorry for staring, but-- Wait, how do you know my name?"
"I read your article," He replied, likewise keeping his tone casual. "Your picture was at the end so I couldn't help but recognize you. I've been meaning to speak with you."
My heartbeat raced right alongside my mind. What was he doing here? Where had he been? What had happened to him? Why did he want to talk to me?
A familiar sensation nagged in the back of my mind. I was missing something, here.
"Who are you?" I finally asked, eyeing him.
Meeting my suspicious gaze, he answered, "Clark Kent," with such sincerity in his expression and tone that my preconceptions scattered like the oranges I'd just cleaned up. I should have expected him to say that, after all the research I'd done. He did believe he was Clark Kent, afterall, so the ring of truth in his claim shouldn't have come as a surprise. I guess I just hadn't thought he'd be so convincing.
"What did you want to talk to me about, Mr. Kent?"
"Leonard Harris," He lowered his tone. "And what really happened at the asylum." After a moment of hesitation, he added. "I need your help."
My imagination ran wild. Instinct told me to keep him here, not let him out of my sight. He was crazy; if I walked away now, the odds of me ever seeing him again were slimmer than slim. Then again, he was crazy. As much as I wanted to help, who knew what he was capable of, or what he'd do to me. I didn't go places with sane men, let alone ones who'd escaped from asylums.
"Alright," I said. "Help me finish with my groceries, and we'll go to the coffee shop around the corner and talk. It's small. Chances are you won't be recognized.
Clark -- or Leonard, I found I hadn't decided which, yet -- nodded.
That's how we met. He indeed helped me finish my shopping, and we went to the coffee shop. Over the course of the rest of the day we sat in the corner and he explained to me who he was, where he'd come from.... and offered proof, which very near scared me witless. He removed his glasses, his dark eyes churned to crimson, and a burst of red spurted forth and impacted the corner of the booth beside where I sat. I clapped my hand over my mouth to restrain a shriek. The scent of singed vinyl drifted upward from two evenly spaced burn marks. I snapped my gaze back to Clark. He'd put his glasses back on, but neither them nor his nonchalant demeanor hid the mild amusement teasing the corner of his mouth.
I reached across the table and slapped him.
His glasses fell off into his lap and a surprised expression replaced his previous one, much to my satisfaction. As he retrieved his glasses, I hissed, "Do something like that again and I'll hit you harder."
The ridiculousness of my threat hit me only after I'd uttered it, but Clark had the decency to take the reprimand for its intent rather than its practicality. Afterward I demanded to know absolutely everything. Where he'd come from, how he'd gotten here, what happened to Leonard Harris, why he wanted to talk to me, and what he thought I could do to help him.
He gave me honesty, which I appreciated, though I confess to understanding why someone else may have attempted to beat about the bush.
"I'm from a parallel universe." He said without a quaver of hesitation. "Leonard Harris and I are different versions of the same person. When I crossed over to this dimension, the laws of paradox demanded he take my place in the dimension I'd left. More simply, we switched places."
"If you're the same person, why didn't he have powers like you?" I asked, then added with narrowed eyes. "Are you really from Krypton?"
"There is such a planet in my universe, but not in yours." He replied. "That's why Harris didn't have any powers. And possibly why he was insane." He shrugged.
"How do you know so much about this?"
"I worked for an organization that has outposts in each known dimension. They handle the research and testing of interdimensional travel."
Pushing back a myriad of questions regarding the implications of what he'd just said -- an interdimensional travel facility here, too? -- I leaned forward. "If you worked for them, why did you come here?" There was still something he wasn't telling me, and I gazed intently at him to catch his response, verbal and nonverbal.
This time he did hesitate. Flashing behind his eyes for a moment I spied.....guilt; a dark, flitting shadow dulling the keen blue.
"A long standing enemy of mine and the organization's managed to hack into the facility in my dimension, and power a weapon of his using our portal technology. With it he took control of my powers, and remotely caused me to wreak havoc throughout the facility all the way to the travel station, where he destabilized several of the portals and almost caused a dimension collapse. In the process, I was thrown through one of the portals, and ended up here."
I let this information sink in a moment. "Why haven't you gone back?"
Clark shook his head. "It is best for all that they believe I'm dead." He paused. "I killed many of my friends. I caused a security breach that could have killed everyone in my dimension. Even if I did prove I was being controlled, there were those who believed having me on the team was risky. If I returned they would only lock me out. Erase my memory, or even imprison me until my powers could be made inert."
It did occur to me that he had fabricated this story to garner sympathy. I seriously considered this thought, as well. For all I knew, Clark Kent and Leonard Harris were bonkers in both dimensions. Instinct told me to believe him. I wasn't entirely sure why, though, which is why I hesitated.
"What exactly do you want me to do, Clark?"
I wondered if he could see the suspicion creeping back into my eyes.
"I need you to turn me in."
I blinked in surprise. "What?"
"Harris lived in an asylum. I want to take his place there. It will be a safe hiding place."
"But why must you hide?"
"There are many reasons, but safety is the main one. Both for myself and this dimension. Think of what would happen if the truth were made known, and my powers revealed."
I did, and found he had a point. None of this dimension stuff made sense yet, but I guessed that if there weren't meant to be superheroes in my world it could be dangerous to introduce one from another. Still.... He couldn't spend the rest of his life in an asylum.
Unless he really was crazy. Though if he was, why would he want to go back?
I nodded slowly. "Alright. I'll do it."
So it began. I fabricated a truthful but vague story about discovering 'Leonard'. Despite my concern that he'd disappear again, Clark convinced me to let him go. He knew how to make it look like the police had found him of their own accord. It would keep me from getting too mixed up, as well, and becoming a suspect in the whole ordeal. I didn't ask him how he knew all this. Most likely it had something to do with the organization he worked with.
There were so many more questions I wanted to ask, but I waited. I watched him walk away from the cafe that day, down the sidewalk, and around the corner with my head spinning. I didn't see him again for two months. Several times during those months I fretted and feared something had gone wrong. Somehow I managed to keep my mouth shut. Just like Clark said, the police found him. They interrogated him, and throughout the entire time, I suddenly began to wonder if everything he'd told me was just the mad ravings of a lunatic. He played a very convincing lunatic, ranting shouting and giving little information as to how his disappearance from the asylum actually happened. The doctors came, he was taken away, and once again my article graced the front page of the newspaper. I went home that night and cried myself to sleep.
The next few weeks passed gloomily; filled with rain and brisk winds, making the walk to work less than enjoyable. Work flooded in after my coverage of the Harris case. Everyone wanted to see my name in the paper. A rival newspaper even tried to entice me away from my post with promises of promotion, prestige, and money. I found I'd lost interest in my earlier ambitions. The things Clark had told me.... alternate dimensions, parallel selves, portals and villains and facilities and organizations.... All my trivial strivings paled, now, in the shadow of those things. So....important.
If they were true.
The invitation came on a Tuesday. "Leonard Harris is asking for you," is all that it said. I dropped everything and started for the asylum without the slightest idea of what to expect. Not that I cared very much. It was something. After all those weeks of nothing. The only things I managed to remember to bring were my wallet and my notebook and pen. Without a vehicle of my own, I took a taxi. The driver was very glad to be rid of the place the moment he dropped me off.
Once inside, I waited to be escorted to where I could see Clark, or Leonard. Never have I known butterflies to make so vigorous an attempt to escape my stomach as they did then. I clutched my notebook until my fingers ached, and my heart pounded against my ribs with much the same veracity as the butterflies.
I barely paid attention as the attendant brought me through the winding white halls. Of course I'd been here before several times, so I knew the route already, and it held no new interest for me. Silent in her white suit, the woman paused by the door to the asylum lounge, and I entered, my gaze sweeping the room.
So I've been working on this for about two weeks now. Since the family is leaving for Maryland tomorrow, and I'm not bringing Chelsea (my tablet) along with me, I will post this now and finish it later.