We are astronauts of a sort, three men in silvery pressure suits, exploring a huge gleaming alien installation with thousands of doors. We are explorers, though we don't really understand what we're exploring. It's not our installation, but we've been able to determine that behind every door is another alternate universe.
We're desperate because our world is in such rotten shape, so at the behest of our military leaders we've gone into the installation, hoping to discover some device of strategic advantage.
We do understand some things about the installation; I am carrying a device which I know will force a hole in the walls. I use it on one wall, and air starts leaking around the edges; I've opened a hole into hard vacuum. I realize that this could be dangerous and modify the seal they gave me to make it tighter, so all the air won't be sucked out of the installation.
We go through one door into a world where things are quiet, but I pick up a magazine and go through it to determine that it's quiet here because everyone is old; the birth rate has fallen to zero and we're in a giant senior citizens' community. Even the comics in the magazine are full of old people, each wrinkle drawn in, except for one wistful yet horrible one in which people, when they die, turn into babies. No answers for us here.
Then we come across one where they've actually done things right. We're mystified at first; there's something subtly different about the world we find ourselves in. We find ourselves in a closed, empty shop, going through some of the artifacts of this civilization, from little pottery candleholders that wobble gently as we pass, to calendars that have photos of men in skimpy clothing on the front. Everything is beautifully made; nothing in the store is cheap crap, even though this store is the kind that would be selling mostly cheap crap in our universe.
I realize quickly (the other two men with me aren't that bright) that this is a society where women are really equal, but not in some stupid way. Women here have sex drives and humor, but they're also at least half of the society. Maybe even in charge.
That in itself doesn't mean much to me, though, and it would mean less to my companions. I've got to find something tangible.
I pick up a discarded copy of the L.A. Times magazine and glance inside. There's a feature story on starvation in some Third World country, and what this society's doing to eliminate it. There are still things wrong with this world, but they're doing something about them, unlike our world, which is in such desperate straits that they send musclebound guys like us to explore this great alien installation looking for weapons.
Someone starts to come into the shop, and we scramble to get back to the dimensional door. Once we're through that we can't be followed, as far as we know. I pick up my briefcase and the magazines (we need proof!) but in the rush I leave my suitcase behind. Small loss, I think; nothing in there I needed; nothing to lead them back to us.
One of the women chasing us drops her keys and I try to pick them up. She sees me doing it.
These women are smart! I am back in my own universe, off-duty. I'm crossing a busy urban street and a woman in front of me drops her keys... deliberately. Although the keys themselves are different, I recognize her and start following her. The women of the alternate civilization have found a way to track us through the interdimensional installation! They've decided to help us, but not the way my bosses want. Instead of military advantage, they're going to share with us the society they've created, one in which justice and equality are realities.
I realize that, even though my superiors will call me a traitor, I have to help them.
See also: Planet of the Kind: the Optfield, added May 20, 2001.
©1997, 2001 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.
Last updated May 20, 2001.