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'Crowd Control,' part 12: It's a small world, even in another universe

In this installment of CNET's crowdsourced novel, one of our heroes tours an alternate Earth. And we learn there are no coincidences in the new quantum reality.

This is "Crowd Control: Heaven Makes a Killing," CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel written and edited by readers around the world. New to the story? Click here to start. To read other past installments, visit our table of contents.

Chapter 9, continued

Adapted from "Knocking on Heaven's Door Through the Back End of a Black Hole" by J. Parker.

Terra Superioris Central Port of Entry, April 13, 2051

Josephina followed Diplomat Peralta down a long corridor, passing countless other tiny rooms where other initial interviews were under way. It was oddly silent save for the rush of air whenever one of the doors would slide open, breaking the soundproof seal of each chamber. A few times low sobbing could be heard from inside a small room and one man shouted about the Transhumanist cabal and demanded to see his lawyer, repeating the phrase in alternating languages.

Peralta quickened her pace toward another large, open white space with a series of sliding doors along one side. The diplomat escorted Josephina to a door, which slid open instantly on their approach. Inside was a seating pod that resembled a Hyperloop cabin on Earth. A series of reclining seats were arranged in line; each was equipped with a telescoping visor that could be placed over each passenger's head. Peralta offered the seat in front of the door to Josephina and demonstrated how the visor was used to display hypnotic images that encouraged deep relaxation to ease the natural discomfort that comes with hypersonic travel, particularly for the first time.


Peralta took one of the roomier seats in front, the doors slid closed and after a series of tones and blinking lights the windowless pod began to move slowly, then accelerated. Then the rate of acceleration itself began to quicken rapidly and Josephina felt a horribly uncomfortable pressure at the back of her eyeballs, as if her retinas were trying to separate and seek refuge somewhere curled up under a cushion of the brain's gray matter.

Josephina struggled to reach for the telescoping visor, which seemed to sense her desperation and lowered itself over her face on its own. Bright pastel colors on the screen before her eyes rolled across her field of view, rolling and undulating in waves that were uncannily pleasant.

Daimler AG - Global Communications Mercedes-Benz Cars

Josephina couldn't be sure if she had actually been awake for the entire journey, but it seemed to her to last for all of just a few minutes before the visor retracted itself. She was momentarily hopeful she would open her eyes to find herself back in the lab aboard the Washington. Instead, another series of tones and flashing lights in the cabin signaled their arrival at what an automated voice described as "Tenochtitlan station."

When the sliding doors opened, Josephina was shocked to be greeted by bright sunlight for the first time in what seemed, perhaps literally, like an eternity. Gone was the sterilized emptiness that had characterized the entire trip so far, replaced by the familiar cacophony of the world. Below what seemed to be a fairly ordinary rail platform, she could hear voices, birds, traffic and the other sounds of a city.

The sun felt warm and intense just as it had during her visits to Mexico. The air was rich and fresh and clean, very much unlike visits to the Mexico City she was familiar with. Stepping out of the pod and onto the platform behind Peralta, she was greeted by a beautiful urban landscape. The architecture was unlike anything she'd seen before, even in her dreams, which seemed an especially relevant observation. The buildings resembled the blocky temples of the Mayan civilization, but were undoubtedly modern at the same time. It was like something out of Ultra Vegas, back before the name change when it was called just Super Vegas or maybe even just "The Vegas." Josephina was unsure as she had always tried her best to avoid the place.

"Your new home is actually just a short walk from this station. Quite convenient," Peralta motioned toward a moving walkway. In the center of each segment of the walkway was a large pole equipped with a handle. "Grab one of these movers here."


Andrew MaMahon is an engineer who earned better grades in English than many of his math and science courses. He spends most of his free time thinking about writing his own sci-fi novel, but usually ends up writing code for his Arduino.

Josephina stepped on to the walkway and grabbed hold of the handle. When she did, a clear cylinder of something like glass came down around her, encasing her as the walkway below her accelerated, carrying her over some sort of bridge. Looking through the glass floor below her, she was stunned to see no traffic, no vehicles, no people or other urban chaos. Instead there were parks, woodlands and rows of crops.

"What the...but I heard the traffic," she said to no one in particular, forgetting the glass separating her from Peralta in her own bubble in front of her.

"Yes, you can hear it through the ventilation system at the pod station. It's all below the surface." Peralta's voice was being funneled into Josephina's cylinder, or perhaps it was somehow permeable to sound waves. "I've never really understood this, but from what I've heard, you route most of your transportation on the surface on Earth, seems like such a waste of productive soil and sunlight."

"You've got us there."

The walkway carried them directly into the center of one of the Mayan pyramid buildings into an ornate lobby, curiously decorated in a classic Spanish style.

Peralta walked to a front desk, where a younger man in a similar uniform but of a darker blue handed her a screen. The whole interaction happened wordlessly like so many exchanges (or the lack thereof) Josephina had witnessed her participate in. She followed Peralta equally silently, now dumbfounded by her new surroundings despite her best efforts to repress the palpable sense of wonder that seemed to emanate from every surface in this bizarre place.

"Almost there." Peralta smiled while holding the door to what even Josephina could recognize as a regular elevator. She felt strangely at home in the confined box as it ascended toward the 15th floor, which was the highest option on the screen in the lift.

Exiting on to the 15th floor, the top level was split into two penthouse-style apartments. An older-looking man pressed his hand against a screen at the entrance to the left-hand apartment.

"Oh, hello'am." The man tipped his cap in a manner that reminded Josephina of her grandfather, whom she hadn't seen since he died decades ago. "New neighbor, eh?"

"Yes, hi, Mr...." Peralta glanced down briefly at the screen she held with her left hand as she extended her right. "Danish, is it?"

Editor's note: Many readers will be thinking right now -- that's a heck of a coincidence for Josephina to wind up in an apartment in another universe that is on the same floor as the home of the interuniversal agent that is currently fomenting revolution on her home planet in her former body!

If this is your instinctive response to this part of our story, I can only urge you to be patient and wait for your society to better grasp the quantum nature of the multiverse. This will help you to ultimately understand that there are no coincidences, there are only unobserved realities.

But in this case, Josephina's odd living assignment can be explained by the fact that an agent had been looking at Meta's and Josephina's profile data side by side in a database after The Committee had determined Meta's conscious location on Earth EB-2. Because the mission was meant to be covert, the data analysis agent named the database file "Priority Housing Dataset," a bit of an inside joke with himself, referencing his own ongoing, illicit affair with the head of the Priority Housing Department for Tenochtitlan District, and the head of the housing department then opened that database while making housing assignments and, well, you can see where this is going.

"That's right, Diplomat...Peralta, is it?" he shot back with a charming smile and the slightest giggle. "I've been working for Doctor N. and his family here as long as I've been kickin' around these parts."

Charles trained his gaze on Josephina and offered a warm smile and a nod.

"You're either a pretty powerful Superioran or some sort of genius or other VIP from Earth to be moving in up here, right?"

"I'm just Josephina."

Sam Falconer

Josephina stuttered before managing, "None of the above, I'm afraid. I'm just Josephina."

Whether she was truly a captive of her own consciousness or not, she figured it was in her best interest to conceal that in fact, she probably was a VIP in this place among the other migrants, whatever this place was.

She extended her hand and Charles shook it.

"She's the latter for your information, Mr. Danish. Maybe you can help her get oriented at some point if you're not too busy?"

Josephina was annoyed to have her cover blown so quickly.

"Yes, of course, and you can just call me Charles. Pleasure to meet you."

Peralta let Josephina into her apartment, which was palatial by the standards she and Alex had become used to, especially after their daughter Cindy had moved out and they had downsized in order to be closer to the lab. Peralta walked her through the operation of her kitchen and the fabricator, which Josephina recognized as a home version of the technology she had seen at the immigration gateway, producing fresh sandwiches and drinks from a floating suitcase.

While Josephina did not feel physically tired, she felt mentally overwhelmed and made a point of asking none of the infinite questions she craved answers for. She wanted to simply sit by herself in silence even more. Perhaps for a decade more.

Once she was sure Peralta was long gone and likely out of the building, Josephina wandered back to her new kitchen and addressed the fabricator with some of the commands she'd just been taught. "Eris, can you make me cheese puffs, please?"

"Shall I reference the Earth or Terra Superioris database for this request?" the system replied.

"Er... Actually, can you tell me if there's an entry in both?"

"There are entries for cheese puffs in both databases. I have an Earth model for cheese puffs. The closest native model match is for aerated corn delicacies."


Click on the book cover to read past installments of "Crowd Control."

Sam Falconer

"Well, by all means, Eris, let's sample the local delicacies."

Moments later the system produced for her what tasted like the most brilliant snack food she had encountered in her lifetime or this apparent afterlife.

Josephina worked her way through three platters full and just as many hours staring out her top-floor windows at what was essentially a strange, cross-cultural, Utopian vision of Mexico City.

"What is this place?" she said out loud to herself.

"This is the central zone of the Tenochtitlan District, Mrs. Parker," her kitchen system answered.

"F*** this," she said out loud, rising and shuffling toward the door, rubbing orange residue from her hands on to her new sofa.

"I'm sorry, could you repeat that, Mrs. Parker?"

"Not until you develop a sense of humor, my new friend."

Next up, Josephina finds she has much more in common with the neighbors than expected.

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