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Lachlan’s legs had almost fully recovered, but without one of his shoes keeping up with Sam’s pace still wasn’t easy. His left leg, the one without a shoe, was beginning to ache as he walked.

“Do you think you could slow down for the man who saved your life?” he said. “Where are we even going?”

“I’m figuring it out. I’m trying to get a feel for the layout of this place so I can deduce where the exits might be, but it’s massive so it’s going to take time. Unless I’m dreaming, in which case we’ll just wander around until I wake up.”

“Is that course of action up for discussion? Because I know for a fact that I’m not a figment of your imagination, and my non-imaginary leg is fucking killing me.”

“Didn’t you say something earlier about how you might be a brain in a jar?” said Sam. “How do you know your leg isn’t imaginary?”

“Fuck,” said Lachlan. “Touché. You’re smarter than you look.”

“And you’re just as smart as you look. Which is to say not at all.”

Lachlan frowned. This guy was such a fuckhead.

“I saved your life. If you’re not going to stop and let me rest my leg, at least have the decency to stop insulting me.”

“If you took your other shoe off, your leg probably wouldn’t hurt anymore.”

“Nah,” said Lachlan.

He knew Sam was probably right, but now that he had suggested it, Lachlan definitely wasn’t going to take off the shoe.

“Imbecile,” said Sam.

“Fuckwit,” said Lachlan.

He winced as a sharp pain shot through his leg. For a moment, he considered stopping on his own and letting Sam continue onward, but he decided against it. As annoying as Sam was, Lachlan didn’t want to risk running into another monster alone.

“So how certain are you you’re dreaming right now? And how does that certainty affect the chances of us stopping for a break any time soon?”

“I’m about 65 percent certain right now, and the percentage goes down the more I think about it.”

Lachlan knew Sam wanted him to ask why, so he didn’t ask.

“Okay. Fair enough,” he said.

Sam frowned.

“My dreams usually aren’t this, I don’t know, bizarre. They usually take place at school or home or something. I’ve definitely never dreamed about a… thing like that,” Sam continued. “And when I figure out I’m dreaming, I can control things and change the people around me. I’ve been trying to make you disappear for the past twenty minutes or so, but you’re still here.”

“Oh,” said Lachlan. “Isn’t that sweet of you?”

“And when I lose my glasses in dreams, I’ve always been able to see anyway. I can barely see anything now.”

“You say you’re 65 percent certain you’re dreaming. A strangely specific number, by the way,” said Lachlan. “I’m curious. What does the other 35 percent of you think is happening? Don’t tell me you’re finally seeing the merit in my brilliant mad-scientist-jar-brain theory.”

“Hardly. I’m maybe a billionth of a percent certain of that, and that’s if I’m being generous.”

“Okay. And what mind-stoppingly genius theories make up the remaining 34 and nine hundred ninety-nine million nine hundred ninety-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine billionths of your certainty?”

“I do have one theory,” said Sam. “It’s a bit far-fetched, and frankly I’m not sure you’d understand it.”

“And frankly, I’m not sure you’re not a massive fuckhead,” said Lachlan. “But do tell. Let’s hear it.”

“Have any of your books taught you anything about inter-dimensional travel?” Sam sneered as he said the word ‘books’.

What a weird guy, thought Lachlan. Sam seemed to feel about books the way Lachlan felt about stuff like reality TV, or tabloid magazines, or that store at the mall that sold nothing but cheap neon boob tubes. But those things were all deserving of scorn–vapid, mindless diversions intended for the lowest common denominator. Sure, some books were like that too, like that vampire romance series Angelina loved so much. But books in general were intellectual, educational. They were fucking books.

“Traveling to other dimensions?” said Lachlan. “You look like someone who enjoys Star Wars a little too much, but isn’t that a bit sci-fi? Emphasis on the fi?”

Sam’s eyebrows twitched in a way Lachlan had figured out was because he was trying to roll his eyes but squinting too much to do so.

Sam chuckled irritatingly.

“Traveling to other dimensions?” Sam repeated, making an atrocious attempt at imitating Lachlan’s accent. “Clearly, your books have failed you.”

“And you’re about to tell me why in the smuggest way possible.”

“Don’t feel bad. It’s a common misconception among the less intellectually gifted,” said Sam. “Other dimensions aren’t actual locations. I’ll try to keep my explanation simple for you, but some of it might go over your head. You see, our universe contains four known dimensions: length, width, height, and time.”

“There we go. Smuggest way possible.”

“Humans can move freely throughout space, but in the fourth dimension of time, we’re locked in continuous motion in a single direction.”

“For the record, I already knew time was the fourth dimension.”

“Sure you did. Anyway, that was the simple part of the explanation. I don’t suppose you’re familiar with the multiverse hypothesis.”

“You mean the theory proposing that multiple parallel universes exist? As in, the thing anyone who’s ever consumed any sci-fi media whatsoever has heard of?”

“Actually, there are a number of speculative theories that comprise the multiverse hypothesis, and several of them don’t involve the idea of so-called parallel universes at all. However–“

“There is no way that you have a girlfriend,” said Lachlan. “I refuse to believe an actual human female is romantically involved with the person who just uttered that sentence.”

However, the concept of parallel universes is relevant to what I’m about to say. Travel in the fifth dimension can be thought of as moving sideways through time rather than just forward. Time squared. It involves jumping between branches of the multiverse to parallel universes. “

“So I take it your theory is that we’ve somehow hopped over to a parallel universe populated by murder rectangles?”

“That’s one of my theories.”

“And the other one is…?”

“That we’ve traveled upwards in time.”

“Upwards? How the motherfuck does one travel upwards in time?”

“That’s difficult to explain without getting into advanced mathematical concepts,” said Sam.

“So you don’t know,” said Lachlan.

“That possibility is unlikely for several reasons. It’s impossible to say what the laws of physics would be in an upwards universe, but I can’t imagine it would be at all habitable for humans,” said Sam. “In terms of likelihood, I’d place it slightly above your brain-jar theory.”

“So it’s incredibly likely, then?”

Sam ignored him and continued.

“There is, of course, the slim possibility that we’ve simply been transported a vast distance to some distant planet and encountered extraterrestrial life.”

“And we just so happened to end up on a planet with the correct temperature, atmospheric pressure, and oxygen concentration to sustain human life?”

“We were sent here to the same location by two different machines. Our destination was almost definitely not random,” said Sam. “And I did say it was a slim possibility.”

Lachlan felt as though he should have more of an emotional reaction to the idea that he was in some distant galaxy or plane of existence, light years or universes away from his home, his family, his city, but he didn’t feel much of anything. Maybe his indifference was a lingering side effect from whatever he’d been dosed with, he thought, or maybe the idea of such a vast distance was too much for him to process right away. Maybe he just wasn’t fully convinced he wasn’t still hallucinating from the drugs.

“So we’re either on another planet or in another universe?”

He was talking to himself as much as Sam, wondering if saying the words out loud would make them feel more real. It didn’t.

“Assuming I’m not dreaming,” said Sam. “It would explain how we started on two completely different continents and ended up here. Any geographical distance is negligible compared to the distance between planets or universes.”

“Alright, Mr. Science. That’s great. Fantastic,” said Lachlan. “Any theories about how to get back home?”



Sarah advanced toward Naomi, positioning herself so Naomi had no choice but to back into the elevator.

Sarah winced as she flicked the fingers of her right hand, and Naomi felt her phone rip from her hand and fall to the floor.

She could still hear Melanie’s voice on the other line. She couldn’t make out any words, but she could hear her tone crescendo from worry to panic.

“Oops.” Sarah stepped into the elevator and picked up the phone. “That was clumsy of you.”

Up to this point, Sarah’s expression had been light, almost playful. Now she wore a smirk, but there was no trace of humor in her face. Every muscle was tensed, coiled like a snake preparing to bite. She put the phone to her ear.

“Hello! This is Sarah!”

Her voice had an artificial perkiness that reminded Naomi of a customer service representative. Excessively chipper people kind of creeped her out anyway, and Sarah’s dark, dangerous expression made her voice all the more unsettling.

“Sorry, you have a weird accent. You want me to what?” said Sarah. “Oh! Let them go? I’m sorry, Melanie, but I’m afraid that’s just not possible.”

“I have no idea what’s going on,” said Jen.

Melanie was shouting on the other line.

“No, no. I completely understand. I’m totally with you on that. I wanted to do this with minimal casualties. I did. I’m only after the defective resource. I didn’t want to get rid of your little buddies, but they keep getting in the way.”

Sarah pressed the ‘close door’ button, and the elevator slid shut.

“He is defective though. He doesn’t work how they designed him.” Sarah pointed to the phone, shook her head, and rolled her eyes. “I don’t know why you’re getting so upset. He’s not a real person. He’s a thing, like me.”

“What’s going on?” Jen whispered to Naomi.

“Here’s the thing, honey,” Sarah said into the phone. “I’ve already disposed of two very real people, and I have two more of them right here … That’s right. Two! I’ll let you figure out who the second one is.”

A dangerous edge crept into Sarah’s false cheer. Her voice was a cyanide pill now, dropped into a can of cherry soda to disguise the taste. She laughed, and it was a hard, angry sound devoid of humor.

“All for a broken tool. That’s all he is, you know. So I’m gonna give you one chance to tell me where he is.”

Naomi couldn’t hear most of Melanie’s response, but she made out several very colorful words.

“Okay. That’s too bad for you. That means I have to get the answer out of poor Naomi here.”

A chill ran through Naomi’s body as Sarah turned to her with that menacing, humorless smirk.

“Ooh! I have an idea.”

Sarah pressed a button on the phone and Melanie’s voice came from the speaker.

“Don’t you dare fucking hurt her! Leave her alone, I fucking swear! Don’t fucking touch her!”

“I was gonna just hang up on you, but if I let you listen in while I extract the information, one of you is bound to crack.” Sarah held the phone out. “Say ‘hi’, Naomi!”

Naomi stepped backward, hitting the elevator’s metal wall. Sarah took a step closer to her.

“Naomi, honey, listen.” Her voice was gentle in an almost mocking way. “That guy calling himself Falcon? He’s not a person at all.”

“Yes, he is! He’s more of a person than any of you fucking monsters!”

Sarah chuckled and shook her head.

“I never said I was a person either. I’m an advanced work of biotechnology, same as him. Only difference is I work the way I’m supposed to. And I’m prettier.” Sarah adopted her mock-gentle voice again. “So Naomi, do you really want to suffer for a piece of technology? Do you want more people to end up getting hurt? Or do you want to tell me where he is and make this easier on everyone?”

Sarah reached out, brushing a loose strand of hair out of Naomi’s face. Naomi shrunk back against the wall.

“Don’t–don’t touch me.”

“Naomi, what is she doing to you? Get your fucking hands off her!”

“Relax. I’m not gonna hurt her. Yet.” Sarah grinned at Naomi. “Because I’m a nice piece of biotechnology, I’m giving you a chance to tell me what I wanna hear before I break every single bone in your body. Where is he, Naomi?”

Naomi shook her head. “I don’t know.”

Sarah reached her arm out, and Naomi felt an invisible pressure weighing on her neck and chest.

“Naomi, come on. You don’t wanna do this to yourself. Not for a piece of technology. Where is he? Tell me the truth.”

“I…” Naomi gasped in a breath. “I don’t know.”

Sarah swept her arm to the left, flinging Naomi against the elevator wall. Naomi tried not to cry out as the elevator handrail slammed into her side.

“Don’t you lie to me.” Every trace of false gentleness vanished from Sarah’s voice. “Where is he?”

Naomi tried to breathe in, but the weight on her chest was growing by the second, blocking the air from her lungs.

“Well? Aren’t you gonna answer?” Another dangerous smirk appeared on Sarah’s face. “What’s the matter? You can’t talk?”

Naomi managed a faint whimper.

“Now,” said Sarah. “Which bone should I break first? What do you think, Melanie? Collar bone or knees?”

A faint sniffling sound was coming from the phone, and it took Naomi a moment to realize it was Melanie. It was a little unnerving to hear one of her heroes cry.

“Naomi, I’m so, so sorry.”

“Are you crying?” said Sarah. “I’ll give you ten seconds to answer and then I’m just gonna break her collar bone and her knees. One… two… three…”

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