The concept of being able to pass between the effectively limitless number of parallel worlds that surround us has long been used as an element of science-fiction and -fantasy novels, even romances, and its use here merely continues that theme, though with a few adaptations and the creation of consistent rules that bind together the stories. Note that the use of ‘world’ does not imply a single planet in isolation, which is impossible, but a complete alternate universe; everything is connected in some way or another.
What follows are merely the rules I have invented for my own use, which therefore have no analogue in the ‘real world’; nor should they be equated with any of the formalised so-called ‘quantum-mechanics’ mysticisms (which have no relation to anything beyond what people want to believe, least of all real physics). Here they are completely fictional devices used as a means of narrative drive and character development, nothing more. For example, Alexandra Frost, who appears as a minor character in A Traveller’s Tale and Transposition, was quickly driven mad as a child because she could see thousands of nearby parallels at once, and Transposition’s Jenny Miller does not even want her skill at all, whilst others use it just as easily and effortlessly as they would walk somewhere.
The actual method of passage is deemed to be more akin to telekinesis rather than outright teleportation, for whilst the traveller does indeed arrive in a parallel world with its own divergent history, they effect movement by changing the fundamental energy level of their very being (and anything else such as their clothes and companions who are included in the dynamic field); this means that the parallel in which they reside can no longer accommodate them, and so the laws of the universe(s) basically forces them to move into the parallel that matches their new energy level.
An individual traveller’s power varies from one to another, but as the ability is formed and governed by their willpower there is a very strong psychological and emotional element; thus the passages created between parallels can be extremely ragged vortices, or so smooth that someone walking through would not know they had entered another world.
The passages are usually almost flat, little more than doorways or windows through which people and things can pass, and anyone seeing an open vortex would expect to see what lay in the destination world, but if the vortex has a strong emotional content then it reflects the traveller’s mood, and can cause people to see more than might actually be present.
An important skill of travelling is the ability to ‘look ahead’ and see the destination before fully opening a passageway, both to confirm that it is indeed what was expected, and to ensure it is safe to travel so as not to appear as if from thin air and startle anyone who may be nearby in the destination world. Advanced travellers can also ‘pull’ things through, by opening a passageway and, rather than going forwards, their warp effectively bring things back from the destination world; this takes a lot of practice, however, and is not recommended.
One final thing needs to be mentioned, the so-called ‘powerpoints’ or naturally-occurring tunnels linking together certain worlds, which can exist in the same place for years or millennia, or come and go within a few days. No one fully understands why they exist, but the current best theory is that they are created as a balancing system to counteract the movement of travellers from one world to another. They can be used as amplifiers for a traveller’s desire, but also as disruptors to that same will, though they have no more awareness than an atmospheric tornado.
She, in the mean while, (if indeed, as between World and World it is legitimate to speak of ‘before’ and ‘after’), had, in a dozen paces after Lessingham’s far-drawn gaze had lost her, stepped from natural present April into natural present June—from that night-life of Verona out by a colonnade of cool purple sandstone onto a daisied lawn, under the reverberant white splendour of midsummer noonday.
E. R. Eddison : A Fish Dinner In Memison
But She, when the time came, departed at but one step from Italian autumn to summer in Zimiamvia: from this room that looked upon the Ponte Vecchio and the golden-slippered dawn, to the star-proof shade of strawberry-trees where Duke Barganax, still a silent spectator at that now silent supper-party, waited alone.
E. R. Eddison : A Fish Dinner In Memison
I shifted, not gears.
Roger Zelazny : Love Is An Imaginary Number
Well, I’d heard of him ‘adding’ and subtracting,’ as though the universe in which he moved were a big equation. I decided—with a sudden certainty—that he was somehow adding and subtracting items to and from the world that was visible about us to bring us into closer and closer alignment with that strange place Amber, for which he was solving.
Roger Zelazny : Nine Princes In Amber
My reading background was fairly eclectic, encompassing everything from sweeping modern romances to hard-core sci-fi, but the stories quoted above affected me in many different ways.
Eddison’s Zimiamvia trilogy were (and still are) the most profoundly beautifully written novels I have ever read. Even the fact they were created and published in reverse chronological order makes no difference to the enjoyment of such elegant prose, with their meandering conversations touching upon various topics and realms of philosophy that initially seem to have no bearing on the immediate story, but the manner in which the central novel jumps between their World and ours is accomplished with such an elegant simplicity it is never less than fluid, and is suited to the divine nature of the main characters, who as aspects of God & Goddess should indeed perform such feats with as little effort possible. [Note that is this particular instance it is possible to change seasons between Worlds as they are not parallels in the accepted manner (sharing the same time of day due to rotation and the same place in their orbit around the Sun), as our World was created for their amusement at the Dinner, where the main characters entered it in different guises.]
As for Zelazny’s Amber series and the short stories in which characters flit between alternative worlds, often changing their form so their will can be accommodated in vastly different environments, the matter-of-fact manner in which these concepts were used left a lasting impression on me, and for a while I found it almost dull when a story remained rooted in a single World or reality; as the breadth of my reading increased, however, this impression was soon banished as I learned to appreciate a different form of complexity.
“All right,” Lucy said, and despite her mood was curious. “What are you going to do?”
“Create a path for us to travel through somewhere else, so we don’t have to set foot in the hotel until we reach your room; I daren’t try the back stairs just yet. I don’t know what your feelings on the subject are, and to be perfectly honest I don’t particularly care right now, but if you don’t want to look, you don’t have to. The walk will be very easy, just like going up a few gentle slopes, which is what it will actually be, so you can do it with your eyes shut, as long as you don’t stop.”
“No, I’d like to see. It’s not that I don’t…”
“Trust me, I know. We’ll be safe enough, but whatever you do, don’t go into my mind to try and see what I’m doing. Promise?”
“Yes,” Lucy replied, and her next step forward took her out of the world containing the hotel and into another, where the ground was a few inches higher and covered by a short growth of fine yellow grass; a handful of paces later, the scenery changed again and she continued the ascent, but so quickly did she move with her hand still clasped by Caroline’s that she did not have time in which to see any details of the worlds through which they passed so easily they might just as well have been shadows, and how would they, as travellers, appear to anyone who might be looking directly where they passed?
Less than a minute later, and after more than two score paces and half a dozen shifts, none of which appeared with any warning to her senses or were the cause of worldwinds that might at any moment have whirled her to oblivion, they stepped into the hotel room, and the Witch slumped onto a luggage rack at the foot of the single bed.
“I warned you,” the leader raised his pistol, and behind him over three-score rifles were aimed at the embarking passengers, but as Airn stood on the steps beneath the driver who had already entered the cabin, he saw Phoebe sweep her arm as if carelessly waving away a persistently annoying insect.
The wind, that had been blowing lightly yet continuously since their enforced stop, and to whose presence they had become accustomed, suddenly veered and swept along the path indicated by Phoebe’s arm. Gathering snow, twigs, even small branches and, as it gained intensity, loose clumps of earth, it created a natural barrier behind which the barbarians cried in terror; they fell to the ground that offered them the only stable environment, and tried to shield their faces from the icy fingers that clawed at them as mercilessly as they would have slain the men, women, and children on the train, but none could find shelter.
What made the scene entirely unnatural, and caused Airn to watch like one hypnotised, was the way in which Phoebe, and Ariadne, who was clutching her mother’s coat but showing no apparent signs of fear, were unaffected by the storm, except for a slight ruffling of their hair and clothes. They stood like elemental spirits who were so much a part of the forces they unleashed that they were totally immune to them, existing in an independent realm that only intersected the real world at certain points.
Airn found the atmosphere exhilarating, but before he had time to analyse whether the feelings were caused by the witnessing of so much primal force, or were due to any property of the air which might have been present and had a similar effect to that which occurred during a thunder-storm, his attention was diverted by the sounds of high-pitched, almost unearthly screams of anguish and pain. Nearly dreading, though more than half-expecting, to see the rebels caught in the middle of the tumult and thrown like twisted rag dolls to some form of nameless oblivion, he was surprised to discover the shrieks of despair originating in front of the locomotive, and even as he stood on the steps and watched, it seemed as if nature had run amok and was playing bizarre tricks with the weather, the earth, and the sky.
Hovering immediately above the barricade was something his senses struggled to register and interpret, but they could not even begin to succeed, and the approximations were totally inadequate. A point of void the size of a child’s soft, inflatable ball; a distortion of, or a discontinuity in, the present landscape, which at the same time seemed to be laid over the background; an entirely negative presence whose effects were undeniable: it was all of these things yet none, and was the indirect cause of the screams he heard, for as it sucked up the barrier and broke it into splinters with unimaginable ferocity, the tortured wood echoed the dying cries of their parent trees as they had been felled by the rebels. Within the immediate vicinity of the hole, gravity itself seemed to have been bent, though the void was really spherical and had a three-dimensional existence that became apparent as snow and debris whirled past him and were swallowed by the gaping vortex.
He saw all of that in no more than two or three seconds with a single turn of his head, but his gaze remained transfixed as, beyond the void, or through it, on the other side, as if it were a hole leading to an elsewhere he baulked at visualising, fleeting images of dank shadowy realms and dazzling, bright plains of light flowed in a triumphant procession from one end of the ragged tunnel to the other. Airn stared at it even as an entirely unconscious action caused him to reach out and take hold of a railing at the side of the cabin as the train began to slowly move forward again, completely unaffected by the raging storm that passed above the roofs of the carriages before lowering to continue its monstrous disturbance in the small clearing where the bandits had assembled after their ambush.
The last thing he clearly remembered was glimpsing from the corners of his eyes a scene which appeared so familiar he felt as if it were from his childhood, or that his consciousness had somehow learned to control and mould the titanic forces and the images they projected so that they reflected some deep, half-buried desire, or a craving he would never have acknowledged, and could not have named. As he turned to regard the visions, he felt himself sliding uncontrollably into the magical views he now so desperately yearned for, and just as he reached out for them a wall of soft, comforting whiteness jumped to meet him: it was a refreshingly cool blanket that wrapped about his body and washed against his face, dispelling all of the doubts and fears he had experienced during the short and potentially fatal ordeal, and he gave himself to the silence as readily as, only a moment previously, he would have leaped into the void to discover what lay at its end.
“We are walking back to the train,” she said. “I’ve already planned most of the route, so it will be an easy and quiet journey, but as you have never experienced anything remotely like it before I think it best for your own comfort and ease of mind that you close your eyes until we have arrived, for you must not falter.”
“A world-walk?” he enquired in amazement.
“It could be called that, yes, but a slow, leisurely one with which to cheat distance; if you did decide to look during our brief passages, you would see nothing remarkable.”
“How do you know?” he frowned.
“I’ve already looked,” she said. “Ready?”
“Yes, but…” Airn closed his eyes and felt incredibly foolish, the situation having changed from one of fantasy to another that was almost approaching farce, but even as he took the first hesitant step and clasped his fingers around Phoebe’s, wondering what was to happen, the wind stopped as abruptly as if it were part of an induced sensory drama that had been cut in mid-scene.
Unsure whether he was being bathed by sunlight, he was about to risk a quick, furtive glance, when he became aware of his shoes crunching on some form of gravel. The next pace took him into what smelled like a forest, and his ears were bombarded by avian screams, his nose by lush, tropical smells, then the cold wind slammed into him again and the shock made him open his eyes, but they did not show him what he had expected.
Staring, he received the impression they were walking at the base of a colossal glacier that must have been over a mile high, but before he could strain his neck to try and see its top, it had vanished, to be replaced by the edges of a rugged, black volcanic landscape, riddled with twisting, smoking, seething lines of liquid red and orange. He wanted to cough on the fumes, but instead inhaled heavy, salt-laden air which left his tongue tingling, for they were now walking along a dull ochre beach of fine wet sand, with a calm sea washing across the surface a few yards to their right, and he could not help but gasp in wonder and delight as he saw that the sky was a pale, luminous pink, and contained a sun that was old and low on the horizon, so that the earthly atmosphere caused it to appear oblate.
He began to feel almost light-headed as the landscape changed yet again, and again, from the shore to a barren cliff at the edge of a brown plateau, to an icy cavern that appeared to be constructed entirely of blue crystal, and then, no more than fifty yards in front of them, he saw the rear saloon car of the Grand Express, waiting either for their arrival or for news of their whereabouts, he was not certain which.
“See, I said it was easy,” Ariadne laughed, and ran along the navicom strip towards the train.
“Nothing remarkable,” Airn spoke slowly the off-handed judgement which had preceded their walk, and felt like laughing: not as the child had done, carefree and safe, innocently, but as one who knew he had participated in something that was near to, or perhaps even beyond, what still passed for a miracle in that world of his which had already achieved so much that would have been considered an impossibility in bygone years. He could not help witnessing the world-walk through adult eyes, however, and envied Ariadne her easy forgetfulness of the past danger.
“In many ways not,” Phoebe replied, “but that is not to say my sensibilities have become in any way jaded. I am still more than capable of awe and wonder for the worlds I visit or through which I pass, but something such as this is relatively commonplace, and though I do not make use of it as an easy method to reach my goals, as that would spoil the fun, the adventure, of the travelling itself, I deliberately chose what are for me superficially uninteresting steps for the journey.”
Idina walked cautiously into the bedroom to find the girl writhing in pain, her body drenched with sweat beneath the thin top-sheet, but floating in the centre of the room was a churning form that almost defied interpretation, for as well as being the source of the storm it also emanated an oppressive fear, as if reflecting Jeni’s condition. It was a series of clouds circled in arcing layers that resembled water spiralling down a drain, but in a vertical rather than horizontal orientation, and in the middle of the vortex were the outlines of distant mountains, though shimmering slightly as if seen through cheap glass or a heat-haze. A gust of wind almost pushed Idina back, but it was the accompanying and entirely unexpected feeling of horror that affected her most, and she could not help but shudder as the raw emotion passed through her.
“Jeni!” Idina shouted above the gale, but to no effect, so with her eyes watering from the cold air she carefully edged herself around the clouds and in so doing was stunned to realise they were virtually flat.
The mountains now seemed little else than a projected image, and though her initial view of the storm gave it a great depth, it was more like a piece of fabric hovering in mid-air, its edges ragged and shaking, until she was completely behind it and able to see through it to another, opposite view of the same mountain-range. Thankfully it was blowing on this side too, rather than pulling as she had expected and braced herself for, otherwise she might have been sucked through to… where? Had their lost Peace Officer, Vana, passed through something like this?
The Commander reached the side of Jeni’s bed and leaned over the tormented girl to grip her shoulders, but Idina’s uncertainty whether to try and calm Jeni’s frenzy or shake her awake from the nightmarish emotions was taken from her as Jeni awoke with a shriek of terror that would have chilled Idina’s skin had she not already been shivering from emotional shock and the cold.
Jeni stared into her eyes but was herself unseeing, heedless as her whole body shook like someone ravaged by countless years of addiction to the worst kinds of drugs, then still not fully aware of what was around her she turned to face the raging storm, one arm rising as if to grasp the clouds. Her eyes widened suddenly and she moaned, but this time it was a conscious reaction and she turned to look at Idina with an expression of such dread on her face that for a moment Idina almost relinquished her grasp, then Jeni swallowed in a dry throat and gazed at the storm, which suddenly collapsed in on itself and disappeared as if it was nothing more than a candle-flame being pinched out before bed-time.
Her ability to be aware of all that surrounded her without even looking for it was both her gift and her curse. There might have been hundreds of other François Valerons who by chance sat in identical cafés, having eaten and drunk the same things, but there was only one of him with letters for her, and it was on this one she had to focus to prevent herself from drifting away to somewhere else that was virtually indistinguishable, causing no amount of distress to those around her as she either vanished from their clear sight or seemed to appear from nowhere.