“Babe, I don’t think it was a dream,” Rory said, head on Colin’s shoulder as they cuddled on the couch.
Rory had been distant since regaining consciousness just as the Dragonstone dropped out of warp in the Nueva Espana system. Forest, who among his encyclopedic specialties, was a doctor in neurobiological medicine, certified her as completely healthy. She still had to go and see the flight surgeon on Nueva Madrid station, a requirement for any injury causing a spacer to lose consciousness. She passed those tests as well and was officially returned to flight status. The poor Dragonstone, however, was a different story. Dee was right, the modulator had been tampered with, likely on Faraway while they were being fueled and while the repairs had been completed and recompleted, Dee, Rock (the ship’s AI), and some trusted dock workers were going over him with a fine-toothed comb. He wouldn’t be cleared to fly until Dee was satisfied there were no more nasty surprises hiding in his circuitry. She estimated another week, possibly two before she was satisfied.
It could be worse. Nueva Madrid was Dragonstone’s home port and the crew kept accommodations there. The base itself was an artihab (artificial habitat) built into the center of Nueva Espana’s small moonlet so real estate was at a premium. Colin and Rory kept a small studio apartment in one of the cheaper parts of the hab. It was good enough for them and even a small apartment seemed spacious after shipboard life. They had a door, a kitchen, a double bed and their own bathroom. Heavenly luxury. Dee and Astra shared something similar. They spent so little time in port, anything larger didn’t make sense.
They had made love that first night. Colin was restrained, almost as if he were afraid to break her. Rory was distracted. It was unsatisfying. It wasn’t bad, their sex together was never bad, but it wasn’t their best either.
After a day of walking on eggshells, Rory told him, “I’m not broken, I’m not even hurt. I have no pain, other than the one in my ass that you’re giving me by treating me like a porcelain doll. If you don’t rip my clothes off NOW and fuck the shit out of me I think I’ll scream.”
It worked. Clothes wound up on the floor and the couch got messed up but they found their rhythm. After, Colin ordered pizza and got them each a beer from the chiller. Rory didn’t bother dressing to accept the pizza delivery, she had little body modesty after a life spent in space. She may have only been thirty four standard years old, but she had been active navy for fifteen of them and a merchant captain for three more. Besides, the pizza was delivered by a robot. She knew that some artys downloaded to anatomically correct bodies, like Forest, but this thing looked like a smaller version of the Dragonstone’s pickup and you don’t need AI level sentience in a delivery bot. The snuggled in on the couch and Colin put a futbol game on for noise.
They half watched it for a period before Rory opened up about her experience.
“I was in this dark…space I guess. There was no feeling of boundaries, like just an infinite nothingness. One minute I was watching Dee slag spiders and the next I was there. I was walking. I don’ know why or where I was going, but I knew that if I just kept going I’d get…answers. To what, I didn’t know but just that it was important that I get there. I saw, well, myself coming towards me.”
“Hey it was just a dream,” Colin said, feeling how tense Rory was.
“Babe, I don’t think it was a dream,” Rory said. “If it was, it was the most vivid, most memorable dream I’ve ever had. It changed me.”
“What do you mean it changed you?”
“Well, in the dream, we touched. Me and this other me. And when we did, it’s like we, I don’t know, sorta became the same person. Like all my memories mixed with hers. I didn’t lose senses of being ‘me’ but it was like all this other stuff was there too, like a read it in a book but no, like I lived it too, but not me. Fuck,” she said getting frustrated.
“Hey,” Colin said, squeezing her. “I believe you. Don’t worry about trying to make it make sense. Just spew.”
“But babe,” she said, words tumbling out, “it’s so fucked up. There’s like another you, and another Dee and Astra and even fucking Sheila was there and Rock was a fucking dragon and I FUCKED him!”
“You fucked a dragon?” Colin asked.
“He could turn into a human, and that wasn’t even the weirdest thing!”
“You fucked a dragon that could turn into a human and there were weirder things than that?” Colin said, trying very, very hard to suppress a smile.
For a second he thought Rory was going to hit him, or cry, or both, but then she burst out laughing and he knew that she was going to be OK.
“Yah. Can you see why I haven’t shared this with anyone?” she said, still giggling.
“First rate decision, Captain,” he nodded. “But I’m safe. I’m not gonna lock you up, hell I knew you were crazy before this.”
“Fuck you,” she said, poking him in the ribs.
“Later, finish your story.”
“OK,” she said, taking a deep breath and gathering her thoughts. “This other Rory, I’ll call her Rory B, she had a very similar life to mine but also one that was totally different. Remember that stuff Sheila was talking about, the ‘many worlds’ theory?”
“Yeah, that every time a decision goes one way or another a different universe branches off and that someone has figured out a way to access them.”
“Right,” Rory said. “I think my girl B was from another one of those universes.”
“Ok,” Colin said, thinking out loud. “Assuming this was more than a dream, and I believe you that it was, why is this important, I mean beyond being important to you and me.”
“Because I think that I know who, or what those beings Sheila was talking about are.”
Rory gave Colin a description of Otherwhere and the beings called The Others.
“So Rory B passed through some kind of portal from her own world to this ‘Otherwhere’ place and you think these Others are the cause?”
“It makes sense as at least a working hypothesis,” Rory said. “We both, B and I, had part of the puzzle. When we ‘shared’ we were able to put it together. The world B came from isn’t all that different than our own. Some of her history is radically different than ours, like the Roman Empire FELL, but from her day to day existence it’s like here only maybe like here was two, three hundred years ago. You know, backwards but still normal. This Otherwhere place is straight up fantasy land. There are dragons and elves and magic works. Rory B can do it. In fact, babe, she passed out using too much magic fighting giant spiders who came out of a black hole in reality.”
“Fuck me,” Colin said softly, sitting back on the couch.
“Later,” Rory smirked. “But right?”
“You need to tell this story to Livingston,” Colin said.
“Yeah,” Rory sighed. “Ugh that’s gonna be awkward.”
“Cause not only did B fuck dragons, she fucked that world’s Sheila too.”
Colin burst out laughing. Rory punched his shoulder.
“Damn, Rory B is a slut,” Colin teased.
“You don’t know the half of it. Literally everyone fucks everyone there. Sex is what powers their magic. They can ‘harvest’ it and store it, calling on it later. That world’s Colin does his share as well, that’s for sure.”
“OK, OK,” Colin said, laughing almost uncontrollably. “But that’s B, not you, what’s the problem?”
“Babe, it may have been her, but I’ve got her memories as well as my own,” Rory said, laughing too. “I remember all of it, and she’s really GOOD! Like DAMN she’s good.”
Colin, practically crying with mirth, said, “I was wondering where you learned that…” and he doubled over.
“Shut up!” Rory said, dying as well.
After they caught their breaths, and it took a bit, Colin said, “OK, but that’s still B and her world. Not you. As awkward as it may be, I still think we need to talk to Livingston.”
“No, I know you’re right.”
“And look, we’re both Navy. Once you’re Navy, you’re always Navy,” Colin said. “I love you, but we don’t live by dirtside rules. Like the old admiral said, fidelity ends when you leave port. You wanna fuck a dragon, have a blast. Just don’t get, like the dragon clap or something.”
“You’re an asshole, don’t get me laughing again,” Rory snickered.
“OK, but seriously, you wanna bring Sheila home and try her out, I’ll take a walk and make myself scarce. Just tell me the nasty details later, like is she really a redhead and are those tits as awesome as they seem.”
“I appreciate that, and I appreciate you,” she said, kissing him. “Even though you’re an asshole. You know you always have the freedom to do the same.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” she said. “We need to tell Sheila, and probably that arty, Forest.”
“He doesn’t like being called an arty,” Colin reminded her.
“Right. I need to break that habit. House,” she said, raising her voice. “Call Sheila Livingston.”
“Patching you through,” the house system said.
“Hello, this is Doctor Livingston.”
“Hi, uh, Sheila, it’s Rory Phillips.”
“Ah Captain Phillips, I was wondering when you were going to call. I suspect you’ve a story to tell me.”
Rory and Colin looked at one another.
“Uh yeah, when…”
“Not over the phone,” Dr Livingston interrupted. “Let’s meet someplace public and noisy. We really need to talk.”