I groaned as I accepted the tall pint glass from the bartender. Man, after today, dealing with Janet’s countless stupid email requests, I really needed this drink. I might even refill the glass a few times, just to make sure that I scrubbed the memory of dealing with that awful woman out of my head.
Taking a sip of the brimming glass, I turned and glanced around Third Street Bar, looking for an open table. Given as it was right at quitting time on a Friday, however, the place was packed. I finally spotted an open seat in a booth near the back.
I carefully wove my way over to the booth, noting that the other side was occupied by a gentleman with a baseball cap pulled low over his face. “Mind if I sit here?” I asked him politely.
He glanced up – and I jumped, my beer slopping over the edge of my glass and cascading down over my fingers. “Holy shit,” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, might as well go ahead,” I heard my own voice reply, coming from my own face as my doppelganger looked up at me!
I sat down in the booth across from him, largely because my legs felt unsteady, about to give out at any moment. “But- what- how-” I stammered, shaking my head as I wrung beer off of my fingers.
He – I – grinned back at me. “Yeah, that’s the reaction that usually happens.” My own face, on the man across from me, grew thoughtful for a second. “Except for that one time I tried to kill myself. That was a weird one.”
“I don’t understand,” I stammered out.
I – he – oh, hell, this is getting confusing. My doppel just raised a hand to me. “I’ve worked out a decent explanation,” he said. “Just humor me for a minute, would you?”
Not knowing what else to say, I nodded – and took a big gulp of my beer, hoping that maybe this was all just some sort of dehydration fueled delusion.
My doppel didn’t vanish, however. “Okay, look. This all starts with me telling you a fact. Alternative realities exist. Can you believe that?” he asked.
After a moment, I slowly nodded. “So you’re from-”
“Just hold on a minute and listen. “Anyway, alternate realities exist. Of course, things are different in them, and there’s an infinity of them. In some, you pursued other careers. In some, you weren’t even born. In some, you’re a girl. And in some of them, you’re a scientist. With me so far?”
I nodded, taking another sip of beer, and my doppel continued. “As I said, in some of them you’re a scientist. In one of them, you happen to be a very good scientist, and you discover that there are alternative realities – and you work out a way to travel between them.”
I hadn’t drank enough to slow my cognitive processes yet. “And that’s you? Or you’re that particular version of me, at least?”
My doppel looked pleased. “Hey, you catch on a lot faster than some versions of us!”
“Well, I do read a lot of science fiction,” I demurred. “Although now, I wonder what I could have become if I actually focused on science.” I enviously eyed the version of myself sitting across the table. “Man, you must have some adventures, huh?”
Instead of excitement, however, my doppel just sighed. “Trust me, it gets old,” he answered.
“What? What do you mean?”
He paused, taking a gulp of his own drink. “I mean, look. Imagine that you could hop to another universe, whichever one you want. Where would you go first?”
I didn’t need to stop and think. “Magic! You could find a universe where magic exists!”
“Yeah, I thought that, too – and I did.” My doppel gestured down at himself. “I mean, it was ley lines and tapping into dark energy flows through our universe, unseen and unfelt, but same sort of thing. I’m pretty much immortal now, thanks to all the elixirs I chugged while there.”
“So why’d you move on?”
He sighed. “Listen, this is a curse. It doesn’t feel like one at first, but I know what’s out there. Or rather, I don’t know, but I can imagine, and it’s awful.”
“Why is that bad? I’d think that it would be incredibly fun-”
“Oh, it is at first. But nowhere ends up being good enough.” He took another sip of his drink. “You pick the most amazing place, settle down, and then your mind starts wandering. I would wake up next to my supermodel wife and look over at her, and just think to myself, what if there’s something better out there?”
“And is there?”
“Sure – but it always loses its sparkle.” He sank a little lower in the booth. “And now, after all I’ve seen, I think I’ve destroyed my ability to be content.”
“Oh.” Maybe he was right, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to feel like he had it worse off than I did. “So what are you doing here, then? I’m sure there’s another universe where you could be having way more fun.”
“Probably.” My doppel lifted his glass again, this time draining it. “But this place has good beer, and right now, that’s all that I want.”
I reached out and picked up his glass. “Well, let me buy myself another round,” I said, trying to cheer the poor fellow up. “But when I get back, you have to tell me about dinosaurs, okay?”
My doppel brightened slightly. “Deal. By the way, you know how scientists think that they had feathers, now?”
“Well, there’s nothing scarier than seeing a twenty foot tall chicken charge you, trying to eat you.” He waved me off. “Get the beer, and I’ll tell you all about it.”