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It was arduous work to squeeze a slab of tree bark. Harder still to make sure that the viscous, clear fluid that dripped out of the bark made its way into a glass vial below. Leo put the piece of bark aside and grabbed another from the scant stash he had collected. He repeated the process of extracting the rare goo; so rare that he didn’t dare put it in a larger flask since more of the liquid would stick to the sides and fail in his experiment
Leo was a haphazard experimenter. He used no books or molecular-analysing technology that others researched with. He simply took advantage of his exotic surroundings to mix an odd plant here with some liquid from a bubbling, purple swamp, or the root of a tree that slunk into the ground during a storm like a slinky with his newly discovered clear sap. The clear sap was from one of the widest trees Leo had ever found on his sunrise trek across the planet. Were he cognizant of the history of his species, he would remark that the liquid was similar to the more fluid water, the substance that came in abundance on Earth which early hominids drank in order to survive. But with a zealous passion for creating potions on exotic planets, Leo knew no more about his ancestors than their strange tendency to stay on the same planet, least of all that they would have to eat or drink to live. The notion of a planet once containing ten billion people made Leo queasy. This planet, aptly named Remotion, was his, shared only by unobtrusive creatures that lived in the trees or violet swamps.
After the last piece of bark was sapped of fluid, Leo held the vial up to the window with slender fingers. Catching the glean of yellow and jade from the two yellow suns and one jade moon, due to the sun’s reflection of its prolific athyst content, the start of the concoction glistened with an inner gossamer light. Yes, the liquid would make superb potions that would certainly be accepted by the Solar Captain into one of his planet encompassing projects of improving the human genome or creating fuel and technology for speed of light travel. The Solar 68 Captain, to be precise, was the leader of the solar system and was a hundred million miles away, but was expected to arrive at Remotion in the next few days to get results of Leo’s work. Leo would let him take what he wished, though his heart did not lie in super technology, but in the amazing planet and its materials, materials which he could blend together in an endeavour of fascination.
Leo put the vial down momentarily and the young experimenter cross-examined his copious mineral stash in various bottles on wooden shelves. Unlike most, Leo preferred to use only the materials he found here in a rather pioneering way so as to not taint his work. Unknown millions of miles away from other humans, Leo’s explorations were indeed completely secluded from technologically flourishing civilizations on other planets and in other solar systems.
Leo’s rich, russet eyes shone with a spirited thrill when curious looking mineral grains caught his attention. What would happen if he put them in the sap? Leo had no idea, and frankly didn’t want to know until the result coalesced before his eyes. With a pair of tongs, Leo picked up two chunks of the mineral, a mineral which consistently emanated a burgundy glow, and plunked them into the vial.
“Ha, ha!” Leo chuckled, as the colour spread curly tendrils throughout the liquid, soon transforming it into a surprisingly intense shade of scarlet. Normally, the potions required stirring and perhaps a host of other ingredients to induce a reaction. It soon stopped swirling, yet the gossamer hue of the initial liquid continued to give off an oily shine. Likely, the mineral had just dissolved.
Leo then heard a clunk as if a large one of the prying squirrel-like creatures had just fallen at his feet. Turning around, Leo laid his eyes upon someone lying on the ground behind him.
That someone was Leo.
“No!” Leo cried in disbelief. He looked around helplessly, but could see no apparent cause of his duplicated body. The man lay as if he had been standing where Leo was and had fallen on his back. He wore identical clothes to Leo—a nano-fibre vest over a light silk shirt and seaweed-green leather pants. There were, however, small burn marks singeing the edges of the man’s vest and blackening the tips of his auburn hair.
“No...” Leo repeated, shaking his head. The duplicate man had appeared out of nowhere, Leo decided, for Leo would have heard him enter like the other critters that occasionally snuck in the open door.
Leo knelt down to see if the man was alive. He felt for a heartbeat and was shocked to feel that the person had the same heart as he did. Judging by its subtle ticks between beats and its position in the man’s chest, it was the X540-standard that was specialized for making hardy explorers on new planets, maximizing vigour and endurance. In Leo’s case, that meant he was able to complete 200 mile long treks over vast areas of the planet with little fatigue. No one could have known about his heart. He was not merely a clone. Feeling an odd pity for himself lying unconscious before him, Leo picked the man up and laid him on the soft leaf couch. Perhaps materialization was more advanced that he thought, though it was unlikely, as only a few years ago, materialization had only been interplanetary for inanimate objects.
Leo couldn’t bear to look at himself any longer, so decided to leave straight away. A walk would surely clear his mind, and hopefully he would return to find out that it had all been a fanatical vision. As a precaution against the man walking away, Leo wrote a note with bloodstone-like ink on a glass tile that could be washed and thus reused. It told the man to wait until Leo returned. Leo quickly fled and shut the door, unquestioning the honesty of his duplicate out of the personal trust he had with himself. His trust was unconsciously projected upon his duo-self.
* * *
Leo indeed felt invigorated after a jog in the light of two suns. The forest was calm, and ethereal purple mist wafted vapours from the miniature swamps whose liquid had surged up from the planet’s interior. As Leo returned home, a squirrel-like creature with bands of thick fur hopped in front of him, lashing back from a claw fight with another one of its kind.
“Don’t mind me,” Leo said, dodging around the creatures to reach his home. They seemed to be in a struggle over who owned the cozy burrow under some gnarled roots.
After many years of isolated living on Remotion, Leo’s house was finely laced with clenching vines and curling flowers eagerly wrapping themselves around it. Through the window, Leo saw his duplicate in the potion laboratory.
“No!” Leo shouted, realizing that his impractical trust may lead to the destruction of his methodically unearthed materials. Leo burst into his house, and the door obstinately banged on something behind it. Leo’s experiments were far too precious to him. He flung himself into his laboratory to find the other Leo mixing up a new potion with the common purple liquid and some leaf wax, seeming to know exactly what he was doing.
“What are you doing in my house?” the man demanded with wide eyes that matched Leo’s shocked expression. He opened the cupboard carefully in order to put the potion away, as Leo naturally did when disturbed by a creature or natural phenomenon. The door opened alright, but an identical copy of it stayed put as if the door had never been open.
“What have you done to my house?” Leo challenged.
“This is my house!” the stranger insisted. The man pulled the second door open and stared in disbelief before warily putting the potion in. “And what is with this cupboard and all the other things I touch leavening behind a copy of themselves?”
Leo was perplexed, and instinctively picked up bottles of ingredients to hide from his twin. A copy of everything he moved that the other man had not already shifted stayed put like the cupboard door. Absent-mindedly, Leo moved both copies of his vials onto the shelves. As long as things weren’t moved, they stayed looking as one normal object. Although he was the son of a cloning technician, Leo had never heard of such a phenomenon. Two identical objects in the same place and time? How absurd!
“Before we lose ourselves in duo-objects, let me ask you one thing: who are you?” the duplicated Leo asked, his face swept with Leo’s own look of curiosity.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Leo stated. “Especially since you seem to know what you’re doing with my potions.”
“I’ve been working on my potions all afternoon. Today I’ve only had one crazy reaction though,” the man claimed.
“Ah, but I’ve been doing the same until you fell behind me. I put you on the couch and left a note before going on a walk.” He didn’t bother adding that the walk had been to evade the man.
“Oh, I was wondering what that was all about. No, I was working here until I was knocked out by the potion that was in here,” he said, pointing to the new concoction of scarlet that now sat by the window, unmoved by the absurdities around it.
“I was working on that potion,” Leo insisted. “But I wasn’t knocked out. This must mean that this really is my house, and you, though we have an impeccably similar appearance, must be a fake.” Leo was still uncertain, but needed something to hopefully make the man admit to his forgery.
The man chuckled, and for a moment, Leo thought that he must have been hearing himself. “I’m no liar, and I am inclined to believe the same of you, considering our...similarities,” the man said uneasily, for it was nothing less than flawless identicalness.
The two Leos hovered protectively around the room, watchful over the potions and equipment that had been difficult, yet enjoyable to perfect.
“Let’s go to the main room,” Leo suggested.
The duplicate nodded. “Good. I can’t have you in my laboratory any longer.”
Leo couldn’t have felt differently. The young men eyed each other closely as they headed to the main room. Leo sat in his chair, the only one he ever sat in, which seemed to innerve the other man, who took a seat on the leaf-covered couch uncomfortably. Leo now noticed that as he had furiously rushed inside, the door had banged on a duplicated door that was left open. Perhaps that was similar to Leo’s copy...
“Surely our duplicity is related to these objects,” Leo’s duplicate speculated before Leo could share his thoughts.
“Yes, I know,” Leo affirmed. He picked up a box of glass writing slabs from a round side table, and yet again, a copy stayed behind. The other Leo performed a similar inquisition with a cushion plumped with the skins of tough, exotic berries. In the moment that a moved object occupied a place partially shared by its counterpart, the Leos experienced a force propelling the object out, lightly and discreetly, but strong enough that they could not keep the objects in a similar location. That gave Leo an idea.
“You know, you probably were pushed out of me like these objects are pushed apart from each other,” he suggested.
The duplicate voiced Leo’s hesitations. “That would mean that we were once one body, and then were split by something.”
They both smiled subtly, not noticing how each of their left eyebrows rose in unison at the thought. Leo leapt off the chair and ducked next to the side table to obtain one of his notebooks. He took both duplicates.
“First of all, what did I encounter in the forest yesterday as the moon reached the Line of Liccord?” Leo asked. The Line of Liccord was the place where, every two days, the moon momentarily blocked the light of one of the suns. The result was a dazzling lime hue as the light reflected off the moon merged with the yellow sun’s light.
“I was at the swamp about four miles from here. I saw a huge, black being jump out of the liquid and snap at a bothersome flying beast. I suppose you saw the same thing,” he added.
“Alright, then what’s my favourite potion, which I suppose is your favourite as well? List the ingredients in the order you put them in,” the duplicate said.
Smiling, Leo thought of the bright blue liquid that spontaneously changed colour every day or so to a strange hue that humans had no name for. He brought it out to stare at in wonder whenever other potions had less lustrous results.
After sharing an exact, ordered list of the ingredients he had used, the other Leo seemed convinced that their memories, up to the point where he fell, were indeed identical.
“Catch this,” Leo said, tossing a copy of the old notebook to the other man.
“Ah yes,” the other Leo grinned,” I see what you want to do.” The omniscient power ran both ways, for although neither man could predict the exact motions or words of the other, a shared past meant that they were naturally moulded to the same inclinations.
Leo flashed his eyes, and they both threw the books across the room at each other. How would duo-objects react when they crashed together after being torn apart?
They showed no intrinsic, metaphysical qualities, and both smashed before falling to the floor as one would expect from two normal notebooks. The possibility of recombination didn’t seem a likely outcome to Leo, but he had to try.
The more he watched the other Leo, the more he felt as if he were merely looking at a hologram of himself, but as he had no technology and had not recorded himself performing the actions of the other man, the idea was unfeasible. If his alternate self continued to live here, a notion which, after living years in isolation, made Leo queasy, Leo would have to share the house. He could not move it to duify it especially with the gorgeous plants clinging tight. Though there would be something worse that he’d have to contend with...
“We can’t keep duifying things,” the other man acknowledged. “We would create an enormous change that could affect the entire planet.
“Duplications of everything...how strange,” Leo mused. The concept would have profound consequences, but likely, since Remotion was out of connection and close reach of other planets, it would stay contained here. Leo had been the first and only intelligent being that he knew of to land on Remotion. In a few days, however, that was about to change.
“The Solar Captain!” Leo called out. A flurry of ideas and terrible imaginings of the future whizzed through his mind. “No!” he said, finding the initially intriguing duplicity of the world now tainted with a nasty aspect that would lead right off the planet. With the Solar Captain’s first visit approaching in the next few days, the opportunity for him and his spaceship to be duified stuck irksomely like resin at the bottom of a potion bottle. The other man shared Leo’s worries, and they both began to pace around the room in an almost identical motion.
Could the entire universe, after an eventual molecular build-up, expose its duplicity? It all would have started with Leo.
The other Leo stopped. “When you mixed the potion,” he said, pointing to the scarlet goo, “What happened?”
“Nothing much,” Leo shrugged. “You know as well as me.”
The man shook his head. “Ah, but my potion did more. I wasn’t knocked out for no reason! The minerals in the potion dissolved and fragments spread through the clear fluid. Then the whole thing exploded, and I must have fallen to the ground where you found me, for I remembered no more until I woke up on the couch.”
Leo was surprised, but his expression slowly lightened in realization of the metaphysics that has torn them at that point. He grinned and looked out the window pensively. “You are from a parallel world,” Leo announced with an assured nod.
The other Leo was smiling. “As are you,” he affirmed.
“Then whose world is this?”
Leo did have an idea, although didn’t want to acknowledge it. The reality was becoming more evident. “Our worlds must have been occurring simultaneously, the same place and time.”
“So that neither one of us could tell the difference.”
“And something split us, something to do with your explosion. It made us both visible since we were both doing different things. And the objects...” Leo said, staring at the ridiculous contraption of two front doors. “Anything either of us touched was only being moved by half of me, so the half of the door that would normally be moved by you stayed put.”
“I should think that you’re a mind reader,” the other Leo said.
“And I should think the same of you.”
There was no question about it; their parallel worlds were now split, and after occurring concurrently up until the last hour, their thinking was closely linked. And now the Solar Captain would join in on the frenzy.
“We have to stop this,” both Leos stated in unison. The first disconnect between the worlds was the newly formed potion, a potion which supposedly exploded in another world. The disconnect was rapidly leading to many more.
“Why didn’t I sense the explosion?” Leo wondered aloud.
The other Leo took a seat in Leo’s now unoccupied chair. “Because it didn’t happen here,” he offered. “It must have occurred only in half of the world—my half—even though my half occurs at the same time and place as yours.”
“Yes, so there must be another dimension that separated us, one that allows things to reach you and not me. Although it seems like this is the first time that it has happened.”
“So the potion must be destroyed.” The man shrugged. “It seems like that would help.”
Leo raised an eyebrow, not exactly sure what separating the potion would do. If it had caused a violent reaction in one world but not the other, perhaps separating it would separate their worlds by another dimension; an extra dimension where the exploded potion must be.
Leo went to his laboratory dazedly, and picked up the potion. When he lifted it, there was not an identical copy underneath, confirming his suspicions of where the other half was now. The vial was there, but it was empty. Leo’s duplicate came over too. It would have been all very satisfying to smash the vial, but Leo knew that it would have no effect on the miniscule mineral grains that had been dissolved.
“Where is the potion anyways?” the other man asked.
“The duo-potion? I don’t know. Likely still in the other dimension where it exploded.”
“Then where is the potion that you made here?”
“Here.” Leo held up the vial.
The other Leo shook his head. “It’s an empty glass vial.”
Leo held it up in the sunlight, which was now dimmer as one sun had already set. “Are you telling me that you can’t see it?” The liquid was becoming clearer as the scarlet crystals settled in lumps at the bottom of the vial.
“It’s not there,” the other Leo averred. He was squinting hard at the glass, moving around it, but had no hope in seeing anything. “Whatever you see, try to separate it. Then we might...” He frowned.
Yes, Leo could see the dilemma. If they were separated, who would go to the other dimension, and would it seem the same as this one without duplicities? And would they, painfully perhaps, merge together?
“We have to risk it. If the Solar Captain is pulled into this, he’ll be duified, and we can’t have that happen. I’ll filter it through some palomed leaves,” said Leo.
The other Leo, closer to the leaf baskets, pulled out just the one Leo was thinking of utilising, the type of thin, ashy leaf he commonly used to separate mixtures. “There had better have been no chemical reaction or we have no chance of separating it,” the man muttered.
Before Leo could prepare the apparatus, his twin dug out a mounted glass bowl with an opening at the bottom from under the table. The man set it up in front of the open window, and after plucking the spine off the palomed leaf with his teeth as Leo always did, he placed the leaf at the bottom of the glass bowl. He tossed the leaf’s spine into a basket in the corner of the room with expertise and fluency, which made Leo wonder if he looked like that when performing an experiment. The man nodded to Leo earnestly.
As Leo poured the mixture through the porous leaf, he began to have doubts as to whether a simple mixture would have caused such an explosion. There must have been a reaction, Leo thought, as he filtered the liquid a few more times. The other Leo did not vanish, nor did the other duified objects. The men looked at each other in light of a shared knowledge. Despite the scarlet residue that swathed the leaf, there was a reaction.
In a sudden flinch, Leo’s duplicate grabbed a bottle off the mineral shelf that contained black chunks that Leo had found in a purple swamp using a long, ladle-like tool that scooped them from the bottom.
“We should add more?” Leo asked. The thought hadn’t crossed his mind, and didn’t seem to be meaningful either. Leo just shrugged, having no better idea or knowledge that would lead him in any other direction. He dumped a chunk into the liquid.
It stayed inert at the bottom of the vial no matter how hard the two Leos stared it down.
Leo ambled over to his shelves of minerals, rocks, and other hard things that he hadn’t bothered to name. He blurted in astonishment: “What happened to those things I found at the side of the mountain?”
The other Leo pointed to the top shelf. “Those ones I’m assuming.” He pointed to an empty vial on the top shelf.
“Yes, the ones that used to be there.”
The other Leo smiled. “I’m putting them in!”
Leo snatched the jar before the other man could grab it. He shook it, could neither hear nor see anything. Great, he thought. Now I can’t see things either.
“Fine, take it,” Leo said, holding the vial out, though still reluctant to have anyone use his equipment.
The other man removed the bottom vial that was positioned under the bowl and poured some of Leo’s seemingly nonexistent material into the liquid that didn’t exist for him.
After a moment, Leo asked, “Is anything happening?”
“No, they’re just floating around in nothing. I suppose it’s in the liquid you can see. But this is wonderful. Or it soon will be.” The man stood in front of the mineral shelf and pointed to an empty bottle. “Do you see anything in there?”
“No,” Leo replied. “But I see what you’re getting at.”
In personal understanding, Leo and his duplicate took turns pointing to empty bottles, three of which turned out to be only empty for only one of them. Neither had any idea what adding them would do, but the idea of a partially invisible substance seemed arcane enough to do something phenomenal. The duplicate added the moss-coloured dirt he could see, while Leo added nut thorns and leaf juice that were only visible to him. Then they waited, not knowing what to expect.
From both perspectives, the interactions were dynamic, playing off unseen substances and, from Leo’s point of view, pierced by the occasional popping of a nut thorn. Yet no metaphysical backlash changed the world around them.
“Wait!” the other man blurted, “Put the red mineral back in that caused my explosion.”
Of course! Leo suddenly thought. He carefully placed the bottle back near the filtering bowl, and, with wooden tongs, held the soggy leaf over the bottle. But he hesitated before squeezing it.
“This could make you vanish,” he said stoically.
“Same for you,” the man grinned.
Then a loud whirring sound sounded overhead.
“The Solar Captain!” Leo exclaimed. Why did he have to be early?
“Quick, squeeze it,” the duplicate urged. But Leo had already started, and the scarlet crystals were seeping though the liquid in random paths.
“Damn, you’re still here!” the other man exclaimed.
Leo frowned. Was there something he missed?
The man picked up another empty bottle. “Do you see anything?”
Leo shook his head and grabbed its duplicate off the shelf to examine, but it was the wrong one for his universe. “Can you?” he asked back.
The whirring was getting shrill, indicating that the Solar Captain was turning on the air flatteners for landing.
As the duplicate hovered over the vial, he ardently watched a seemingly invisible drop enter the container while pouring it from the vial. “Just one more drop...” he started.
The empty bottle that had been in his twins hand dropped to the ground, shattering. The other Leo was nowhere in sight.
“No!” Leo cried, as shocked as he had been when the man had appeared. The extra cupboard door was gone, as well as all the duo-potions and previously duified equipment. The very bottle he held had vanished from his grip, proving that it had been meant for the other world. As far as Leo could tell, the combination of clear sap, scarlet crystals, nut thorns, and leaf juice no longer made interactions with invisible substances.
He was separate; for whatever reason, his world no longer showed its duplicity. He hoped that his once time-and-space-sharing counterpart had the same luck. He certainly wouldn’t tell the Solar Captain of the encounter; it would likely be branded as a senseless vision. Then he would have his thoughts and consciousness updated to a new brain except any recollection of the ill-timed event, the whole notion mind-boggling and uncomfortable.
So Leo smiled in the warm rays of new knowledge. He had split the world, and maybe the other half continued differently with the other Leo. Although the notorious ripple effect would cease to corrupt a duified world, it would take its toll in another form in changing the two split worlds even further.
Leo put a cover on the newly concocted potion and placed it at the very bottom of his shelf where it would likely go unnoticed. As long as it stayed together, Leo figured, the now forever changed parallel worlds would remain locked by another dimension.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Leo continued to drop more of the esoteric substance into the vial. “Just one more drop should do it,” he announced. He put the bottle down in frustration. Perhaps there was something else in the room that he could see and his duplicate couldn’t, or vice versa.
Then he heard the sound of shattering glass behind him. The other Leo was nowhere to be seen, as well as the duified objects.
Leo gasped in bewilderment. But then it struck him. It had worked—the other man must be gone to an alternate world separated by another dimension by whatever unfathomable reaction that had occurred. The whirring outside stopped, signalling the Solar Captain’s landing. Leo would have to inform him that he couldn’t continue with potions without telling him why. He too knew the risks of exposing the information.
But an idea was forming in Leo’s mind. On the secluded planet he could continue experimenting and creating miraculous substances, assuming he could convince the Solar Captain to leave him alone. Leo placed the world-sealing potion on the bottom shelf for safety, and waited for the captain.
What amazing chemical combinations had caused such an event? Despite the dangers, Leo was awed: he had torn the fabric of the universe, breaking the world’s duplicity.