I awoke with a start. This was two, three days ago. Maybe more. Maybe less. The details are starting to fade. I was in a strange room. A warehouse, I thought. I stood up and walked around, my head feeling stuffed with cotton. Had I had that much to drink? How did I get here? I walked around, trying to find an exit. I came to a railing, metal and rusted. A factory, not a warehouse. I found a flight of stairs and then an exit. It’s dark. There’s nearly a foot of snow on the ground. Jesus. It was nearly sixty the night before. I trudged through the snow, hoping to find my car. Nowhere. Fuck. I started walking, trying to get a sign or some landmark to find out where the hell I was. There was a sign. College and… No. No. That’s the intersection by my house. But how? I turned, looking in the direction I’d come from. The factory. The factory was right where my house should be.
About that time I noticed something. No cars. No people. Nothing. The moon. What’s wrong with the moon? It… It wasn’t there.
I started walking again. I had to find someone. Anyone. Nothing. I walked for hours without a single sign of life. I came across a subway station I’d never seen before. The thick grey clouds overhead decided to empty and I sought shelter underground. There was light. I was blinded momentarily. I rubbed my eyes, trying to force the spots away. When my vision returned, I saw them. A dozen people surrounding me. The youngest was maybe twelve, the oldest couldn’t be more than twenty seven. A near even split; seven female, five male. One stepped forward and spoke.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“What? I– Who am I? Who are you?”
“Not in the mood for games. You came from above ground, yeah? How the fuck are you still alive?”
She was tall, slim and raven haired. Same shade as mine, actually. Her eyes were purple. No contacts. At least, none that I could see. Her clothes were dark as well. Tight too. I couldn’t help but stare. That’s when she stepped in, a knife in her right hand and at my throat. Her face was an inch from mine. She smelled of jasmine.
“Christ! Put it away!” My arm shot up and twisted the knife free. I held it for a moment before I realized I had eleven more on me. I flipped it around, catching the blade and handed it back.
“You want to know who I am? My name’s Greg. Who are you? What the hell happened here?”
A murmur went through the group. I couldn’t make out much of it. Not enough to make sense of it, anyway. Jasmine told everyone to shut up then looked at me.
“You really don’t know?”
I shook my head.
“I’m Libby. I’ll introduce you to the rest later. How’d you get here?”
I told her. It didn’t take long. What was I supposed to say other than “I woke up in some factory where my house should have been and walked for six and a half hours”? I asked what was going on when I finished.
“You don’t remember? The silos on the moon? The war?”
When I shook my head, she explained. Congress approved missile silos on the moon. There were protests, Libby said, but that didn’t stop anything. Within six months, there was an accident. Or sabotage. No one was sure. The explosions ripped apart the planetoid, showering Earth with debris. Fourteen million people died in the first minute alone. By the end of the first day, there was maybe twenty million people left on the planet. That was five years ago.
“This doesn’t make any sense. What does that have to do with living underground?”
On cue, the ground shuddered and sent everyone sprawling.
“That’s why. Moon fragments still rain down on the Earth. Most of the population lives underground.”
I didn’t remember any of this and I told her that.
“Yeah, well,” Libby said, “You can talk to the professor when we get home. Maybe he’ll know what’s going on.”
We trekked down the subway line for about fifteen minutes. I asked what they were doing in the station, if no one went to the surface.
“Checking the perimeter. Need to keep everything secure.”
I decided to stop asking questions. Libby came to a keypad and quickly entered a thirteen digit code. A door opened and one by one, we filed through.
I can’t describe the city. The closet I can come is a bizarre cross between Star Trek and Fraggle Rock. Libby grabbed my arm and led me to a building near the center. She knocked on the door, calling out to “the professor.” I won’t bore you with the details of my introduction to him. He was in his mid-forties, salt and pepper hair, trimmed short. Average height and medium build. He didn’t waste anytime hooking me up to a half dozen different devices and studying the readouts on as many monitors. After a minute, he made a noise. He jiggled a wire that was hooked to my temple and then smacked a screen. Nothing changed.
“You’re not from this Earth.”
“Oh, that makes perfect sense.” Good to know my sarcasm hadn’t been affected by my completely weird goddamn day.
“You see this?” he asked, gesturing to a monitor. “That’s your vibrational rate and frequency.” He pointed to another screen. “That’s what every other thing on this planet’s is.”
“So, Earth-1 or Earth-2?” My nerdery was showing.
“Nothing. How do I get home?”
The professor started disconnecting me from his machines. “I have no idea. I don’t even know how you got here.”
It was stupid, and I shouldn’t have done it– not that that’s ever stopped me– but I stormed out. I ignored the professor and Libby’s cries and left. Walked right out of the city and went back towards the surface. I was on another Earth. A different goddamn dimension. Or universe. Whatever. I started walking. Nowhere in particular, seeing as how I knew next to nothing about this place.
Then I saw her. Maybe a quarter mile from the subway. She was laying on the ground next to an overturned Volkswagen. I hadn’t seen her for months, but I knew it was her. Her clothes were shredded and blood was streaked across her face. I crouched and looked over her corpse. It was her. Their version of her, anyway. The tattoo she’d got when I’d got my third wasn’t there. The scar on her right shoulder was missing. For a moment, I felt sorry for her. Dying alone like this. Then I felt the anger return. I punched the VW’s window, showering the body with glass and walked away. It was stupid, it was petty and it had ripped my hand in several places. I didn’t care and continued walking, leaving a trail of blood in the fresh white snow. I climbed the fire escape of a six story building and crouched on the edge of the roof and looked out over the desolate and scarred landscape.
That’s where Libby found me.
“Was wondering when you’d find me.”
“Yeah, well, thanks for the trail. Very stealthy.”
“I want to go home. Obviously your Earth is more advanced than mine. Or at least, it was. I have the feeling that breaching dimensional barriers is still a bit out of your league.”
“The professor thinks he can figure something out. Maybe something to strengthen your vibrations or whatever. That should send you home.”
“Oh boy, exposition.” I still hadn’t turned to look at her. The wind picked up, blowing my hair over my face. I’m sure I looked really cool.
“You’re a very strange person, you know that?”
“It’s been noted a time or three.”
“You coming back?”
“Do I have a choice?” I finally looked back at her.
Libby shrugged. “You want to stay out here and get crushed by a great burning space rock, suit yourself.”
“Not on my top five list of things to do.” I stood and hopped off my perch. “So, back to the city?”
“Back to the city.”
“More tests?” I was dreading her response.
“No tests. The prof’s going over the data from before, cobbling gadgets and devices and whatnot. Give him a day or three.”
“Wonderful. Lead the way.”
We walked back underground in silence. Libby showed me to a room, bandaged my hand and told me to get some rest before leaving me alone. The room, by no means huge, was still comfortable. A decent sized bed, a couch and a small kitchen. A bathroom was off to the side, with a shower stall, toilet and sink, all brushed steel. Nice look, I thought. I thought I should try to sleep, like Libby suggested. After all, I needed my rest for the battery of tests and false hope I was sure to receive in the morning. I was more exhausted than I realized. I barely made it to the bed, collapsing on top of the covers.
I awoke with a start again. The ground was cold. Concrete. There was a water heater four feet from my face.
I found my way out of the basement. Someone’s house. I silently made my way upstairs and snuck out the door. It was still dark. The snow was gone. I felt a brief surge of disbelief and looked to the sky. The moon. Bright and whole. I looked around, tried to get my bearings. I was in an upscale housing development eight miles from my house. I was home. I think. I thought maybe, just maybe I should quit drinking. I looked at my left hand. It was bandaged and stained with the rust color of dried blood. Christ.