I turn the ultrastable oscillator one more time and crank the interdimensional warp accelerator up a couple of notches. I pull my goggles in front of my eyes, then prop them up on my forehead again. Goggles are probably the least flattering accessory.
On the landing pad, something appears with a flash of light and the unmistakable scent of scrambled atoms.
I observe the figure more closely. She looks exactly like me, from the cartoonish lab coat to the ineffectual goggles perched on her head.
I walk toward her slowly, trying to make the moment look as cinematic as possible.
“Don’t be alarmed,” I commence, because in science fiction everyone speaks the same language. “I have just—“
“What’s going on?” asks the subject, interrupting my memorized First Contact speech. “I was just attempting to contact a parallel universe—how did I get on the landing pad? What are you doing in my lab?”
“You are me from a parallel universe,” I say, half explaining and half exclaiming.
“We were doing the exact same thing at the exact same time? Crazy.” She gets up and walks over the control system. “In what ratio did you set the values for the detractor field and the molecular ramifier? I tried 34:35, but I think the fraction needs to be lesser than that of the frequency detector.”
“Sorry, I have exactly zero patience for technobabble I barely understand.”
“Oh, good. Me too.”
“So… there’s no massive dystopian wars in your universe?” I nonchalantly pose.
“No. Not that I know of anyway.”
“No dinosaurs roaming the streets?”
“Pssh, no. Those went extinct ages ago. Wait, does that mean this universe has dinosaurs?” She runs to the nearby window as if hoping to catch a promenade of velociraptors on the street below.
“No, never mind, they’re extinct here too. Um, like, is your society based on dominance, distrust, and gold rickrack?” I ask.
“No. Looks like Star Trek didn’t get that one right, ay?” she jokes in a voice that sounds entirely too similar to my inner monologue for comfort.
“So… these parallel universes are completely identical.” I had been prepared for universes where I was an elven warlord, a hyperintelligent iguana, or a consciousness with no corporeal form, yet this concept takes me completely by surprise.
“Kryznowszky!” I yell to my assistant, who is standing behind the iguana-resistant glass wall. “Get us some lunch.”
I spend the next ten minutes trying to figure out how, exactly, her universe was different from mine or vice versa. In that time I glean that her world has the same planetary structure, the same socio-political scheme, and the same toothpaste brands. We are discussing which dental hygiene products had the greatest sales in the last fiscal year when Kryznowszky comes back with a bag from Coterie Café, muttering something about how fetching lunch was not the kind of task one expects to perform as assistant to a multiverse theorist.
My parallel universe self opens her bag. “What… what is this?” she whispered in an awed tone.
“Uh, that’s a bagel.”
“Bagel. Are they to be eaten by the bay? We have things like this where I come from, but they’re sugary and coated with glaze—“
“No, yeah, that’s, that’s a donut. This is different.”
“Yeah, we call them donuts too.”
I suddenly realize the implications. “Wait. I have worked all my life to contact a parallel universe version of myself. Out of all the infinite possible dimensions based on infinite variable factors, you come from an alternate universe that’s exactly like this one in every possible way, except bagels don’t exist? That’s… really fucking stupid.”
“Well, I did the exact same thing, and I ended up contacting a universe that introduced me to something new. That has to count for something, right?”
I admit to myself that it wasn’t a total loss. At least for her. I decide that hiding my resentment is a waste of effort.
The other me is still enraptured by the bagel and takes no notice of my indirect animosity. She pauses dramatically before taking a bite. The suspense in the air is palpable.
“This… just tastes like bread.”
“Yeah, that’s basically what it is, a little chewier.”
“Kind of disappointing.”
We eat the rest of our lunch in silence.