Interlude #6

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"Your people opened a door," Cal said, "and you were so intent on what was on the other side that you didn't notice that you were surrounded by other doors."

The void echoed noiselessly about them, tendrils of energy spiralling off into infinity, forming an indistinct fractal web that pulsated and swarmed, never substantial and shimmering away as soon as one of the glowing ribbons was looked at.

Holt was near, in as much as time and space meant anything here. "I'm not a scientist," he said, his mouth immobile and his voice resounding in Cal's head.

"You did it once. Did you never suspect there was more?"

"In the early days, maybe," Holt said. "This isn't news to us. Your world is as commonplace to us as breathing. Most people just get on and don't give it a second thought."

Cal pointed. "There is your world. Above is Locque 2, an alternate version of my planet that I discovered soon after gaining this ability. I've yet to locate the real Locque. I know it's possible, as I did it instinctively back at the Aviary when I did my first jump."

"Are all of these different worlds?" Holt asked, waving a hand at the lattice of constellations surrounding them in all directions.

"I believe so," Cal said. "Each night I come here. I've located some other worlds. Would you like to see?"

There was no inertia or sense of movement; instead, the void shifted around them while they stayed fixed in place. They raced along the dimensional highways until a junction drew near and the void dissolved away,

leaving them standing on a rocky outcrop below an inky, starlit sky. The air was acrid and tasted of ash. Holt took a step, then looked at his feet and crouched, running his hand through black soil. "This is glass," he said, wincing and pulling his hand back.

Before them was a ravaged landscape, illuminated below the moonlight. Silhouettes of ruined buildings were visible in the distance, separated from where Holt and Cal stood by an enormous crater that had to be several miles wide. It glinted in the night. A deathly silence lingered here, pressing in on them both.

"Don't forget to look up," Cal said.

The stars were moving impossibly fast, cartwheeling through the sky and easily visible to the naked eye. There were no recognisable formations, but a constantly shifting pattern. Some stars would move closer, flare for a moment and disappear, or become as one. It was stellar chaos. What appeared at first to be a crescent moon was in fact its shattered body, one half of the satellite splintered into a spray of space rock, as if from a cataclysmic explosion.

"Perhaps you can explain the stars here to me," Cal said. "I have no words."

Holt craned his neck and stared up at the arc of the night, mouth agape. He took a few tottering steps as he gazed at the sight.

"Another step to your left and you'll fall into the crater."

"Those aren't stars," Holt said, standing still. "It's space junk. Probably." He looked back at the crater and the husk of the city beyond. "Looks like some bad shit went down here."

"War?"

"That usually does it," Holt said. "Come close to this a few times ourselves. You should be glad we've not let you have nukes."

"Nukes?"

"Big boom."

Cal moved closer and grasped Holt's arm. The air split and they were gone, leaving only burnt dust swirling in the dead air.

The barren wasteland was replaced with greens and purples of an unfamiliar jungle. The colours were all shifted and the plants were alien, their stems thicker and more fleshy than those on Earth or Locque. Flowers were enormous and vivid, and insects half the size of a human buzzed about them, wings straining to lift their bodies.

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