Authors: Colin Sullivan
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Introduction: When Destiny Calls
The orange light winked.
Michael stared at the device in his hand, nonplussed. The orange light winked again. Curious, Michael raised his right arm and shook the device gently, as if to dislodge a truculent spider from its surface.
Unperturbed, the orange light winked.
The device, similar in size and shape to a walkie-talkie, featured three lights in a neat row at one end. At the other, the onâoff switch sat firmly in the âoff' position. The light in the middle of the row was the one currently perplexing the device's owner. It winked with a reasonable hint of orange.
Gingerly holding the device at arm's length in front of him, Michael picked his way across the office floor. The carpet was largely hidden under piles of paper engaged in a futile battle with entropy, and his feet made a rustling noise as he unsuccessfully tried to navigate a clear path. He plonked himself into his office chair and pushed to one side the tide of paper vying for his attention on the desk. He set the device down and regarded it in the same way a cat regards a mouse â although he couldn't quite shake off the feeling that he might not be the feline in this relationship.
The orange light winked.
Michael did the only thing he could think of: he flicked the onâoff switch to âon'.
The effect was immediate â the orange light stopped winking. Michael could feel the tension in his shoulders subside. He leant back in his chair and ran his fingers through his unruly mop of curly hair.
“Hello?” The clipped tones of an elderly male voice cut through the silence.
Michael started, and scanned the office.
“Hello? Is this thing on?”
Michael shook his head in a bid to dislodge the disembodied words from his mind.
I've been overdoing it
, he thought.
“Is there anybody
?” The voice was getting testy.
A red light lit up on the device.
“Has the red light come on?” the voice asked.
In spite of himself, Michael nodded, although he wasn't entirely certain why.
“Look. If you're there and can hear me, and the blasted red light has come on, can you pick the paramunicator up and bang it down on a hard surface several times?”
With more than a little trepidation, Michael reached out for the device. It felt warm to his touch. He picked it up.
“That's it! Careful”
The voice seemed to be coming from all around him as well as from the device. Michael cautiously held the box up to his ear. It seemed to be emitting a very gentle hum.
Michael jumped and the device slipped from his fingers. It hit the floor, bounced sideways and nestled itself in a collection of unpaid bills. Michael stood up in a bid to retrieve it, but the device had other ideas. It emitted a slight screech and the red light went off. The hum rose in pitch and volume, and the air above the device began to fizz. A vague mist began to form and rapidly coalesced into the blurry image of a man's head. He had straggly grey hair and an unkempt beard. His lined face suggested reasonable age, but his eyes, which quickly sought out and fixed on Michael, suggested his faculties had not yet dimmed.
“Ah. There you are, my boy,” the image said. “I can see you now. Sorry about the confusion. The A250 model is a bit unreliable.”
“Whaâ?” was about all Michael could manage.
“Don't stand there gaping. I haven't got all day. Regardless of the A250's predilection for cuttinâ” The image wavered and the white noise of static filled the room.
“âdoes then just bang it on the floor.” The image paused. “Did I just cut out?” he asked pensively. “Hah! Typical. Look, as I was saying. Even if the wretched thing doesn't cut out, these links have a finite lifespan. Now. Did the orange light wink?”
Michael nodded, the power of speech still seeming somewhat elusive.
“Yes. Yes. Always does. No one knows why. Still, all's wellÂ â¦ eh, my boy?”
Michael reached behind him for the arm of his chair, and gripped it tightly as he lowered himself into the security of its foam embrace. “Whoâ? Whatâ?”
“Quite so, quite so,” the disembodied head agreed. “Now. To work. Can I just confirm your name?”
“Um, Michael. Michael Trye.”
“Excellent. Now listen, Mr Trye, I'm your pandimensional careers adviser, and I'm here to tell you that a unique opportunity has arisen that you can't afford to miss. Of course, when I say can't afford, I suppose I mean can't avoid. You've been chosen, my boy!” The old man beamed.
“Chosen?” Despite his misgivings, Michael felt he was going to have to get to grips with the conversation. Reality, or what was left of it, would just have to wait.
“Don't parrot. Yes, chosen. You see, there's a universe very similar to yours in which a very venerable science journal has, how can I put this, disappeared up its own wormhole. The future was kind to the editors, but as they become increasingly obsolete in the face of technology, they, well, they retreated.”
“What did I tell you, my boy? I've not crossed the universal bridge in search of an echo. Yes, retreated. But now it seems there is once more a need for some serious science, and our universe has, um, misplaced its human editors. That's where you come in. Quite literally.”
“No buts. You were chosen by one of the most powerful computer algorithms in our universe. It has scanned all viable parallel universes, assessed all likelihoods and possible outcomes and alighted on you. It made contact with you last week.”
“Was that when someone threw a brick through my window with a note saying âyou iz haz wun' stuck to it?”
get the message. Excellent. And, of course, you got the paramunicator.”
“The box. The A250.”
“Yes. I did get that. Had to collect it from the Post Office. There was no postage paid â cost me a small fortune!”
“A small price to pay, my boy. A small price to pay.”
“Ah,” Michael paused. This really wasn't how he'd expected his Tuesday morning to behave. “I'm sure you won't mind me asking,” he ventured, “but this
one of those prank TV shows, isn't it? You know, when the host leaps out from behind the filing cabinet and says âGotcha!' while the audience applauds wildly.”