‘For a long time it has seemed to me that life was about to begin – Real Life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business. Time still to be served, a debt to be paid – then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.’
– Alfred D’Souza
The idea was simple; any one place at any one given time can either be daylight, or night. Natural light and dark are separate, and do not occupy the same space at the same time. For them to do so would be.. impossible, and so, anyone finding themselves in a situation where this appeared to be truth would note this and decide – what? That they were dreaming, perhaps? Insane? Day and night simply do not intertwine. Yet, in this place, they did.
The impossibility of the situation occurring overhead did nothing to comfort the young man who stood bathed in its glow. He wasn’t dreaming, and he believed as reliably as any one man can that he was sane, and yet there it was. It didn’t help that his location was not really a location, but rather the absence of a location, the necessary gap between two very important and very real places.
Other people were around him. There was also equipment; huge walls of technology, towering databanks with countless switches and displays, monitoring the current state of semi-existence of the world around. Cables spewed forth from these towers like grotesque tentacles, travelled in all directions, and slowly disappeared into the glassy bleakness that extended all around, beneath a sunlit night sky. People ran along the length of these cables, checking that they were all properly attached to the correct piece of nothingness.
All in all, the situation was perfectly surreal. The young man, however, was in no way surprised by the relative loopiness of his surroundings; such was his line of work that he was a frequent visitor to this non-place that they called the Mirrorline, a strange world of chaos and confusion that existed purely as a gateway, the space between spaces. Order of a type could be established on it, but never completely, and never permanently. So, whilst he stood on seemingly solid ground and was surrounded by very real people, he stood also under an impossible sky surrounded by swirling nothingness. What you gained on the swings, you lost on the hallucinogenic roundabouts.
The young man was torn away from a vain search for the horizon as someone cleared their throat. Standing before the largest and most complex of the towers, the owner of the throat looked around, ensuring his action had been noted. As the leader of this expedition, he felt moved to say a few words before beginning.
“My dear fellows,” he began, and paused as a shooting star shot across the sky and crashed into the sun, which exploding in a blinding light before instantly re-establishing itself in a different part of the sky. “My dear fellows… thank you all, for being here today. We are about to undertake an experiment which, if successful, will mark a momentous step forward. If we are able to successfully bridge a connection between the two places we have selected, then theoretically we can make travelling between Earth and our world instantaneous. I know many of us, myself included, have considered the possibility of this for some time. Today, we find out. Today, we make history.” The man paused, surveying his audience, a sea of faces lit with excitement and no little trepidation. What they were about to do, after all, was ridiculously risky. The people gathered today were the bravest and the brightest, the foremost experts in Mirrorline manipulation, but all that really meant was that they were slightly less ignorant about what they were doing than most people. But this was the work of the Viaggiatori; pushing the boundaries of knowledge and making fantastic, productive messes out of stuff that they didn’t really understand.
Significant pause dealt with, the speaker raised his hands. “Let us begin!”
The speaker stood at the centre of a line of people, before the largest of the towers, a huge bulging mass that was the centrepiece of the present technology. On either side more towers were lined up, each with a big red lever and someone standing next to it. As the speaker made his declaration, each of them reached up – and pulled. The effect was immediate; the strange sky overhead began to twist and whirl, coalescing from a fan of colours into solid form. Glittering and still shifting slightly in the impossible light, they appeared to be two almost identical small rural towns, floating with apparent lack of concern for the implausibility of their doing so.
The unsettled young man observing this from beside his very own tower had to balk at the slightly theatrical nature of it all. No doubt Rashalamn was already imagining how all this should sound when it was entered into the Storie. The levers were technically irrelevant anyway; manipulation of the Mirrorline was an entirely mental process, but when it came to bigger tasks most Viaggiatori preferred to use some form of visual aid in order to achieve the right level of concentration. Rashalamn liked big red levers, so big red levers it was.
“Two places”, Rashalamn boomed – and now he was actually shouting, with no apparent concern for the awe of the moment – “one, a small town from Earth. One, a small town from our world. Different places in different worlds, but more similar than anywhere else, the strongest reflection we have yet found. If a permanent connection can be forged between the two worlds, then this is the place where it can be done! Hold your strength, my friends, for now, I begin!”
The young man quickly checked the readings on his tower. None of them made any sense, but then they wouldn’t. The tower was his own creation, albeit straight out of the textbook, an extension of his own big red lever that was there only because he willed it to be. He made it so with his mind, and it in turn imposed order enough, when combined with the towers of his comrades, that what was happening above was able to both happen and continue to happen with aplomb. The sheer amount of mental energy required to make this so would have boggled the young man’s mind, had he not been determinedly not thinking about it. Concentration was essential, because the amount of towers and big red levers that it had taken to kind of bring two whole towns from their own world to this place in-between, while vast, was nothing compared to what Rashalamn began to do next.
The man stood staring skywards, eyes wide but unseeing, and began to move his hands and arms in a series of gestures somewhere between conducting an orchestra and kneading dough. The chaos all around began to respond to his touch, reluctantly at first but with increasing smoothness as he moulded it into a solid shape, a bridge to place between the two worlds. The young man felt a brief thrill of terror watching the elder at work; though Rashalamn was confident in his theories, no-one knew for sure whether their endeavour would succeed or fail horribly. Were it the latter, then hopefully there were enough people present to prevent everyone being sucked away into oblivion, lost to the Mirrorline forever as it angrily shook off the form they forced upon it. Hopefully.
Rashalamn’s bridge initially took the form of an actual bridge, a pleasant white stone affair with an exciting upwards curve that might have otherwise belonged out in the countryside providing passage over a small stream. The design didn’t really matter, as the bridge was really only a metaphorical conceit, a verb form masquerading as a noun. It was but another concentration aid, and as Rashalamn’s concentration shifted, the bridge began to twist out of shape, morphing into a fairly implausibly contorted spiral staircase. But whilst it did twist, it remained present, firmly in the elder man’s grasp as he continued about his work.
The two towns that floated nearby now began to change, issuing out from their complete form thick cables akin to the ones that adorned the many towers. They snaked out, bleeding with the colours of their origin points in the town; here a green one distilled from a tree, here one with the red brick of a newly built house, meeting with other cables that issues forth from the ends of the bridge, sliding about each other and tying into knots. Rashalamn’s connecting of the worlds to his bridge was straightforward only in that visual capacity; the strength of concentration seemed to emanate from the man, who stood now still with his eyes closed. The other people scattered about began to glance about from their towers to each other; the closer that they came to success, the thicker the tension, the stronger the horrible feeling that this could all yet go wrong.
Undaunted, unaware, Rashalamn continued, and, with a final effort, pulled tight the last knot of cables. His bizarre construction floated above them, thrown together into a final form that bore a countenance quite disturbing even to the eyes of seasoned Mirrorline veterans. “It is done,” he said, quietly, this time with due appreciation for the sheer awe the moment inspired. He released his concentration, and slumped instantly down to what passed for the floor in the world of the Mirrorline.
For a long moment, none dared to breathe. There hung a moment of perfect stillness, tinted with apprehensive amazement. Had they done it? Had their daring, impossibly dangerous plan actually come to fruition? The moment dragged on and on; the strange thing that they had made hung above, pulsing keenly, but holding firm.
Someone began to applaud. The young man, stood still transfixed by their newest conversation piece, didn’t see who, but after a few beats others took it up, and the assembled Viaggiatori snowballed into rapturous applause.
“My friends,” Rashalamn said, staggering to his feet and turning to beam at his colleagues. “We have done it!” The applause grew louder. “We have.. we’ve changed everything!”
And then, with perfectly nurtured dramatic timing, everything flickered.
Alarms began to sound on the towers all around the young man, who was jolted out of his futile attempt to trace the bridge’s path from one end to the next. Startled, he turned to his own tower and was greeted with the news that the two locations they had connected were, under the strain of said connection, beginning to melt into one. That wasn’t exactly supposed to happen.
“Abort!” He cried, and the cry was taken up all around as panic swept past. “Abort!” The young man pulled on his own big red lever with the intent to recalibrate his mental energy into neutralising that which was already in use, a standard failsafe designed to instantly undo any concentrated construction and return the Mirrorline to its default state of chaos.
All of the towers exploded instead. Thrown across the area by the blasts, their operators did not see as the essence of the towns floating above began to bleed through into the bridge that connected them. The construct itself quickly began to bulge unhealthily with the sheer weight of existence, and the pulsing quickened drastically. Beams of white-hot light began to shine out from cracks as the construct threatened devastating explosion.
“No!” Rashalamn cried, whether in fear of what would happen or aghast at seeing his life’s work about to blow up before his eyes. Struggling from the energy backlash, he once again threw his mind into the mix, locking horns with the freewheeling energy that now threatened to feed back and tear apart two worlds that had been wrongly connected, allowed to touch in ways that apparently they never should have. With a curse for hindsight, Rashalamn grabbed at the randomly snaking cables of pure energy, attempting to unravel them safely and quickly before they tore themselves apart.
He worked quickly and fiercely, but not swiftly enough. Even as he finally made it to the core knot that would dispel the entire construct and began work on easing it apart, he felt the pure essences of the Earth and the Mirrorworld thread into its disintegrating form, and gently touch.
The Mirrorline began shuddering violently, form disappearing into raging chaos, and Rashalamn himself wobbled as he was bludgeoned by a catastrophic headache and double vision. Thoughts of an easy unwrapping gone, he reached out with the last of his strength and tore the core knot apart. The shuddering stopped instantly, but Rashalamn didn’t notice as the backdraft from this final act knocked him both unconscious and ten feet into the air.
A few metres away, the young man from the safety tower struggled into a sitting position, patting out the fire in his hair that he was too distracted to simply think away. Above him, the images of the two worlds convalesced back into existence, separate again once more, drifting apart and fading away. But they had touched, if only briefly, and who knew what possible effects that might have had? The young man groaned, feeling aches and pains that felt like they’d never fade, and stared blearily around at his shaken comrades. Some were holding each other up as others ran to where Rashalamn had fallen, but all faces wore the same thought: as a result of this night’s work, they had danced with the possibility of oblivion.
Tomorrow, they’d come back and try it all again.