By: James Rumpel
David Burton stared at the pristine mountain lake. The sky's blue tint reflected off the lake's smooth surface, allowing the water to borrow its color. A single water bug swam near the shore; a tiny wake following behind.
A multitude of thoughts scurried through David's mind. His focus jumping between memories, hopes, ideas, and fears. He smiled. It was kind of ironic considering he had made the long hike to this secluded gift of nature in the hope of clearing his mind. He had heard about this lake and the trail to it from a co-worker years ago. Somehow it had avoided the constant influx of tourists attempting to catch a glimpse of the ever-dwindling beauty the Earth provided. David was glad to be alone today. He needed to be alone.
The diagnosis had come as a complete shock. What had originally been a slight bout of back pain had tragically evolved into pancreatic cancer. The prognosis called for long, painful treatment and a depressingly small chance of success. David did not know if he was up to the task. He had no family to help him through the ordeal. He had always been a loner. He hadn't needed anyone else. A huge majority of his life had been spent alone, working as a software developer, reading, or camping. He didn't regret his solitary existence. In fact, it made his contemplated solution to his illness much easier to consider. There was no one to miss him.
David could not take his own life, but he could refuse treatment and let the illness take him as the universe had intended.
His focus once again returned to the water bug. The tiny creature had somehow decided that swimming in a never-ending circle was its best course of action. David smiled once again. Nature was providing a metaphor.
A strange sound, a vibration similar to the noise made when someone bangs a tuning fork against their hand, pulled David's attention away from the insect. He located the source of the resonance about thirty feet from where he was musing. As David looked on, a perfectly round hole appeared in thin air, interrupting the background of shoreline, brush, and rocks with a circular area of blackness. It reminded David of the portable holes from Looney Toon cartoons.
This was not a cartoon, a fact made even more evident when a creature stepped through the black into the late afternoon Colorado sun. David stood watching, frozen by equal parts fear and curiosity. The creature was humanoid in shape and dressed in some sort of elaborate spacesuit. David considered running but found that he had no desire to escape. Curiosity ruled his behavior. Apparently having a limited life expectancy made him a more courageous man.
The creature held a small electronic device in its hands and after examining it began to remove the suit's spherical helmet. To David's relief, inside the helmet was a human man. He looked to be in his mid-forties. He had a thin, shaven face and tightly cut dark brown hair. The man noticed David almost immediately.
"Oh. Hello," he said. "I don't often run into anyone on my excursions. Don't be afraid. I'm not here to hurt you. I just need to make a couple of readings and then I will be on my way."
"Who are you? How did you get here? What are you doing?" The questions flowed from David. He was unable to dam up the river of curiosity.
The man seemed affable enough. He smiled at David and began setting up some equipment which had, miraculously, followed him through the hole. "You probably won't believe this, but I am from another dimension. I'm guessing that here, you've at least heard about the possible existence of alternate dimensions. From your clothing and initial readings, I'm estimating that this is a typical Earth, somewhere in the very late industrial or technological age."
David did not confirm the man's time estimate. "You are from a different dimension?" He moved closer to observe and continue the exchange. As he neared the visitor, David realized he was older than he originally appeared. The man's face was worn and wrinkled. There were noticeable touches of grey in his hair, particularly around his temples.
"That is what I said. There are a nearly infinite number of dimensions. I have been journeying from my own to different ones for years. This is approximately the two-thousandth dimension I have visited."
David felt the need to contribute something to the conversation other than a continuous stream of inquiries. "I'm sorry for being so inquisitive. This is rather shocking."
"I completely understand," said the man. He continued to work as he spoke. A small satellite dish was beginning to take form under his guidance. "I very rarely get to talk to another person. I am enjoying this, please continue."
David jumped at the invitation. "Why so many? Are you exploring?"
"No. Unfortunately, it is much more than that. I am looking for a suitable dimension for the survival of my people." He paused from his labor to look at David. "You see, on my version of Earth, we destroyed our world with our use of fossil fuels, consumption of resources, and unwitting disregard for the good of the planet. We were a good people, just ignorant. By the time we discovered the error of our ways it was too late. Climate change and pollution have caused a downward spiral that will make the planet unable to sustain human life in less than a decade. We are only able to survive now by consuming even more of Earth's resources. In an attempt to save ourselves we are searching other dimensions."
"So, you are going to invade us?" David hoped the slight hint of alarm in his voice would not cause the interdimensional traveler to discontinue the conversation.
"Not at all, I am looking for a world that could survive our joining them, peacefully. We are dwindling quickly in number. There are not many survivors left and we would offer quite a bit in the way of technology."
"You said you have visited two thousand worlds. You mean, you haven't found a suitable location in that may tries?"
The man resumed his labor as he answered. "There are strict parameters we follow. We are not going to cause the destruction of any new world and we are not going to colonize a world unless we know it will sustain us and remain inhabitable for at least twenty-five more years. To be honest, almost every world I have visited is already dead or nearly so. In most of the dimensions I enter the Earth is a lifeless desert or the air is poisoned. That's why I wear the suit when I come through the doorway."
"But in two thousand trips, you have had to find other living planets. Mankind can't destroy the planet in every dimension?"
"The few active Earths I have found have all passed the point of no return. They have all been within twenty-five years of the end. Some were abandoned. They, apparently, decided to try and find a new home in space. I hope they have better luck than I have so far." Having concluded his set-up, he activated the device. It sprung to life. Several different lights and monitors began to glow.
"I can use this to tap into your satellites. I should be able to get a reading on this dimension's state fairly quickly," he explained.
"How long have you been doing this?"
The traveler sighed. "I guess about five years. We have three of the doorway generators and we pretty much use them constantly. We have examined nearly ten thousand dimensions. We have to keep trying. Earth is doomed. We are doomed if we don't succeed."
"I really hope this dimension works. We have our environmental issues, but as can see we still have a lot of nature: a lot of beauty."
The visitor looked out at the lake. "You sure do. I can't remember the last time I got to see anything like this. It is truly amazing." He started to comment more, but a beeping sound drew his attention. His expression quickly turned from one of anticipation to disappointment as he examined his device. Without a word, he began to disassemble his equipment.
"Wait," pleaded David. "Surely we have enough time to make it worth your while to set up your doorway generator here and continue your search from here."
"Our parameters are set up for good reasons. A few more years of searching at the expense of your resources won't make any difference. We will keep searching, but we are, for the most part, resigned to the fact that every possible Earth has been destroyed by its inhabitants. The end is inevitable. Mankind is doomed to destroy his planet." The man's earlier congeniality had been replaced by sadness.
He concluded dismantling his device and prepared to return to his realm. "It was a pleasure being able to talk to you. I wish you the best of luck."
"We could work to change things," pleaded David. "Maybe we could fix things so that the planet survives longer."
The man shook his head and turned towards the hole. "Goodbye," was all he said as he stepped through the inter-dimensional doorway. David heard the vibration sound once again as the darkened hole disappeared.
Surprisingly, David found himself smiling. He knew he should have been even more depressed than he was before the visit. He wasn't. He had made his decision. If the traveler and his kind could fight so hard for survival after ten thousand failures, why couldn't he also fight for survival? The Earth may only have twenty-five more years, but he was going to see it through to the end and live every moment of it.
He began the long hike back to the parking lot where his car and the rest of his life waited.