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I had a good conversation with one of the trainers over at the gym named Susie. She’s a competitive archer, practices mixed martial arts, and is a free runner. In addition to working as a trainer at the gym, she does some stunt work for movies and TV in the city outside. I wasn’t dressed for a session at the gym, but she had me do a few things to test my flexibility, strength, and general ability to move. I have all the advantages of my mentally projected 30 year old cis male body along with the knowledge from my younger days in my own 'verse when I was an athlete and a coach. That means that I was able to do a lot more than I could possibly do with the body sitting on my bed back home. On the downside, that suggests that working out here probably won’t affect physical health back home. On the plus side, it means that I can learn skills here and the muscle memory will probably transfer over, just as my old muscle memory helped me with the tests Susie gave me here. It just means that I’ll have to get serious about working out back home to be strong and flexible enough to use those skills without hurting myself.
At 9:45 I left the gym and headed over to Dr. Miri Yazdi’s office. I arrived at her door at 5 minutes before 10. She was already there, sitting at her computer with her door open. I knocked on the door to get her attention. She looked up, saw me and smiled.
“Uriel! I’m so glad you came to visit! Come in! Come in!” She stood up and came around the desk. She put her hands on my shoulders as I came near. “Let me look at you.” She looked as if she were looking over top of glasses even though she didn’t have any on. Then she looked as if she was looking away from me while it was clear that she was still investigating something about me. “Hmmm…” She said at length.
I had no idea what she was doing.
“You are still connected, but it’s not the same connection. Did he talk to you about taking down the connection he’d made when he was investigating you in Memphis?” She asked.
I was a little taken aback by her questioning. She seemed suspicious, not of me, but of Morrison. “Yes. He talked to me about it a couple of times, and told me before we went to your class the other day that we needed to take down the connection that he had created.”
“So, why were you two still linked when you came to my class?” She asked somewhat sternly.
“Because I asked him to wait until after your class. We didn’t have time to do it before your class without popping into another dimension. I didn’t want to leave this dimension before I went home. So, we took care of it after your class, in regular time, here in this 'verse.”
“Uh-huh. And then he made a new link right away?” She was definitely interrogating me.
“Uh, no. Not really. It was me. I mean, it was both of us, but it was my spell that did it. I asked him if he wanted it, he said yes, and then I did the spell with him.”
“How old are you?”
“Fifty.” Though right that moment I felt about 12.
She laughed. Really hard. She finally caught her breath and said, “You aren’t messing with me?”
“No. For real. I’m fifty years old. I have three grown children and six grandkids.”
“Alright, alright. If a hundred year old sorcerer can’t date a fifty year old sorcerer in peace, who can he be with?” She gestured toward a chair for me to sit in and headed back to her own chair. “I’m sorry to be so intrusive. I was actually worried that our boy Morrison was falling back into old habits.”
“I didn’t realize he still had his old life hanging over his head.” I said.
“Oh, well,” She tilted her head one way and then the other, “How much do you know about Morrison?”
“A lot and also very little. I am a fan of the comic book series that he is in back in my world. I’ve read every issue that he’s in back to the 1960s. I honestly never thought we’d be friends, because the version of him in the comic books has some less than pleasant character traits.”
“Like?” She asked.
“Like that he’s very full of himself. Arrogant. Just absolutely convinced that he knows everything and no one else knows anything. He’s also pretty disrespectful regarding his wife Eve’s skill and intelligence in the comic books, which is why she eventually leaves him to get on with her life. Also, in the comic books he’s referred to more than once as ‘a dog’ for his constant seeking of sexual partners. Hot, young, curvacious sexual partners. To be crude about it, if it had a pussy, he’d fuck it given half a chance.”
Dr. Yazdi nodded along with all of that description.
I continued, “But in the more recent storylines, they’ve sort of retconned him as an asexual monk. He’s all business and not much for play of any sort in the new stories. He does get stuff done, though. In fact, despite all the negative stuff, he always got things done. Which is why I enjoyed reading his comics.”
“So, it sounds like you do know a lot about him.” Dr. Yazdi said. “That’s good.”
She paused for a moment, thinking, and then said, “They didn’t retcon him in your comic books. He really has been alone for a long time. I won’t say for sure that he was celibate that whole time, but if he did have any dalliances, they were extremely discrete. Considering how indiscrete he is about you, I’m tending towards thinking he just stayed celibate.” She smiled and shook her head.
“He’s a good man,” she continued, “But he really went on a bit of a downhill slide after the death of rabbi Akiva, and then after Eve left him he was in full on self destruct mode. My parents are sorcerers, too, and they were good friends of his from long ago. The first time I ever came to the US was when my family came here to this building for the Great Intervention. I was 10 years old. There were 7 different magic families who came from different corners of the world, plus 3 of Morrison’s closest friends here in New York City. I remember arriving here, and then one of the teenage children of another magical family took all of us kids out to the zoo for a few hours so that the adults could talk. That night, Morrison disappeared. Everyone was very worried. My own father tried to track him through the dimensions, but after 3 hops he’d lost the trail and he came back here to report to the rest of the people waiting. Morrison was gone for a month, and when he came back he was almost like a completely different person.
“There were a few people that thought he might be an actual changeling!” She grinned at that, “We children had great fun with the idea that the great Sorcerer Morrison was a changeling!! But, no. There were plenty of things about him that were quite recognizable. He had a long road to restore people’s trust in him. I was young, but I am sure that there are people from my parents’ generation who can tell you all the things he did to repair his relationships and to make up for the damage he’d done to people with whom he could not repair the relationship.
“But, all that said, recovery is a lifelong endeavor.
“When he told me about you the night after you arrived, I became somewhat concerned. You came looking for a teacher. And you also told him directly that you were no friend of his. But he was completely smitten. I haven’t seen him like that ever. Not once in all the years since I was a kid. So, when he told me later that the link between you two was not dissipating and that he kept looking into that link when you were away, I told him that he needed to tell you what was happening and fix it.”
“Ah, so you were the trusted advisor he spoke of!” I said.
She gave a humble nod, “I’m glad that he trusts me, despite being a mere child of 39.”
“Wait, is that something he has actually called you?”
“Oh, no. No! I was just joking. He’s very respectful. In fact, he’s the one who invited me to come teach here after I finished my PhD. I studied physics, but he knew that my true love was outside the realm of any ordinary physics department. They will theorize about other dimensions, but you have to be in a school of magic to study the real thing directly. My training from childhood together with my formal studies at the university fit together here in a way that they never would at any other institution in the world. And somehow, he’s also included me in his circle of ‘No men’”
“No men?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s what he calls us. Morrison has said on many occasions that it doesn’t do any good to have a bunch of ‘Yes men’ around. He needs a council of ‘No men’. People who will not take his bullshit and will always speak truth to him, even when it’s hard.”
“And, coincidentally, you are also no man.”
“Well, yes. That’s true for me, but not all of us are non-men. Shaun is absolutely one of his closest confidants. Sometimes I think that Shaun knows more about Morrison’s secrets than even Morrison does.”
“Shaun is really something. He’s a bit of an enigma to me. In the comic books he’s just kind of a personal assistant who always has whatever Morrison needs when Morrison needs it. In real life, I don’t know, he is that and also clearly much more.”
“Rabbi Akiva told Shaun to look after Morrison when he was gone. Or at least, that’s what I have heard. Beyond that, I don’t actually know much about Shaun’s history. Just that he’s been here at Morrison’s House since back when everyone called it Akiva’s House.”
“Does Shaun have a family?”
“None that I know of. He used to have a boyfriend that worked as a nurse at the hospital, but he moved away a few years ago. I don’t know anything more. Shaun has a few close friends, but doesn’t socialize much outside that group.”
“He seems like a nice guy, and he has a quirky sense of humor. I hope I get to know him better.”
“I’m sure you will. If you are around Morrison, you will inevitably be around Shaun. The two are never far apart for long. Morrison would starve and live in a single outfit permanently if it weren’t for Shaun. As brilliant as he is, the man still has troubles with a few basic life skills. It’s not that he’s a slob, it’s just that he gets so focused on whatever his current project is that he’d forget to breathe if his autonomic system didn’t take care of that for him.”
“Op! Well, I guess he has me beat, then. Sometimes I do straight up forget to breathe. Back home I have a dog who will poke at me if he notices that my breathing isn’t right.”
“But you don't need him here?” She asked.
“No. The body that counts is sitting on a bed right next to Doug. He’ll alert me and bring me back if I start having trouble back there.”
“Ah! That brings me to what I really wanted to talk to you about. I have some suspicions about your dimension, but I would like to ask you some questions so that I can confirm or reject them. Do you mind?”
“Not at all. But, can we talk about something else first? Morrison said that you have a lot of knowledge about nonviolent conflict…”
“Oh! My, well, yes. Are you facing a situation back home?”
“Yes, well…” I explained everything that was going on in a complete info dump that was perhaps not as organized as I would have liked it to be.
When I was done she said, “That’s a lot.” We both sat in silence for a moment. Perhaps she was thinking of what to say, or perhaps she was just giving me a chance to add anything else I’d missed. I can never tell in these situations. I just waited, and hoped that she’d have some wisdom for me. At last, she spoke again, “That is a big bundle of tangled thread, and you can’t take on everything all at once, you know. You can pick one thing that you are going to focus on, and then offer solidarity to those who are working on other issues. If you try to deal with the whole ball, you will either be paralyzed into inaction or your efforts will be so diffuse that they will not amount to anything.”
“But, The Crows! The Crows have dealt with lots of different issues all at once. You’ve built cooperative housing, diverse human-scaled economies, developed transformative justice systems, created a network of community-supported healthcare that includes mental health and even dental care. You’ve created safe spaces for people who are outcast from or oppressed by the rest of society. That looks to me like you all tackled the whole tangled ball.”
“You just said it right there. We ALL. No one did everything. Everyone picked the one area that they were both good at and passionate about and worked on that.”
“What about the 19? Morrison, Dart, The Knight, Miss Freeze, all of them?”
“What about them? They did just like everyone else. They focused on what they were good at. Morrison has a building that is legally in his name, and he has the magical skills to fold our three dimensions like origami so that a small city can fit inside that building. He also had a lot of friends who had studied with him and with his teacher who each were able to do something to make the small city work. Dart, The Knight, Miss Freeze, Joan of the Ark, and that lot are good at fighting, but they all redirected their efforts toward protecting ordinary people from those with power – including the government when needed. They all committed to non-lethal action while doing so, and yet they are all still considered terrorists by their own government because of their heroism. Annie and Andy used their shapeshifting abilities for information gathering, sure, but they are also really good with search engines, libraries, and good old fashioned journalism. They made their day jobs into their contribution to activism simply by seeking out actionable information and reporting that in the news. Don Manuel and The Flame didn’t even use their so-called powers except to help evacuate people from danger. Their contribution was traveling around and training people in how to set up their own coops and connect with the network.
“Everything that the 19 did, every single thing, could have been done by someone without any special powers. Their powers may have given them advantages at specific moments, but they were not strictly necessary. Ordinary human skill is enough.
“And, let’s face it, at least half of the 19 are just ordinary people who perfected a skill or have cool gadgets. Most of them are special because they hyper-focused on one dumb trick until it became a superpower. Lots of people do that and never get noticed.
“People get caught up in the idea that change happens because of certain individuals, or they think that someone is responsible for a big project because it looks like they are coordinating things. There’s no magic bullet and there’s no one mastermind behind great shifts. It’s lots of people doing lots of little things.”
I knew that what she was saying was true, but I struggled against it anyway. “That makes me feel so powerless! Like all I can do is one little thing that isn’t enough to make any change and, what? I just have to hope that other people are doing their part?”
“No. You don’t just hope that other people are doing their part. You connect with other people doing their part. You encourage them. They encourage you. You support them with the thing that you do. They support you with the thing that they do. Any healthy ecosystem is interdependent, and adapts to changes in the environment. A group of people trying to make life better for themselves and each other is an ecosystem that needs to communicate in order to find homeostasis. Plants and animals communicate through chemical messages, scent, and sounds. Humans communicate mostly through speech, but not only. Seek out the people who are already doing work that is aligned with your goals and find the ways that you fit into that ecosystem.”
“You make it sound easy,” I complained. “It’s not so easy. Especially when I’m so physically isolated from the other people who are doing those things that are aligned with my goals. If I were in DC I’d show up to all the protests against the Dobbs decision. If I were in Minneapolis I’d be putting my energy into the various things that have risen up around George Floyd Square and the Black Lives Matter movement. If I were in Seattle, I’d be connecting with groups who support the homeless and probably also protesting against the ICE detention center. But I’m in Walla Walla, and I don’t know of any group doing anything on the ground here. If they exist, they aren’t super visible.”
“They exist. I’m sure that they do. You just have to find them.”
“So, here’s what I’ve found so far. There’s a Facebook group for a Trans Support group in town, but the group stopped meeting in person at the start of the pandemic and almost no one wanted to meet online. When I did connect with a couple of local-ish people online, the group quickly turned into a non-geographically specific group, still with only three of us living locally. So, no local activity came out of it, and then it just kind of petered out. There’s another Facebook group called Walla Walla Antifascist, but it’s just a feed full of re-shared memes. Of course, I wouldn’t expect any real organizing to be happening on Facebook, but they don’t even mention when there is going to be a local rally about anything. The only time I’ve ever found out about any kind of protest or rally is after the fact in the news or as I drove by, and those appear to be extremely small.”
“But you have found out about events after the fact, so you at least know that things happen sometimes. Start there. Figure out where people are finding out about these things. Why are they so small? Is it because they also don’t know how to reach out to people beyond their own bubble?”
That question hit me between the eyes. Yes, I’ve been frustrated that I can’t find the people that I want to connect with, but the people I want to connect with are probably just as frustrated and for the same reason. Their events are small. They probably wish that there were more people showing up to the events. It may seem like finding them is hard, but it isn’t impossible, and no one said that this wasn’t going to take work.
Professor Yazdi watched the gears turn in my head for a moment and then said, “OK. I’m giving you some homework. Figure out who organizes the protests that you find out about after the fact. Look through old news articles. Ask around. Look around town for places where information about that sort of thing might be shared. Next Friday, come back here and tell me what you found.”
I nodded my head and said, “OK. I’ll start with the news and work out from there.”
“Exactly. OK, now I want to talk to you about your dimension. My biggest question is, why do you always leave your physical body behind?” Miri was now leaning forward with her elbows on her desk and her chin resting on her hand.
“I just can’t. If I make a portal and try to walk through it physically, I just walk through the space in my dimension and I’m just on the other side of the portal in my dimension. I can’t traverse the portal except in my imagination.”
“When you make the portal, can you see it in the air?” She asked.
“No. Not really. I just see it in my mind’s eye. It can be very vivid in my imagination, but no one else is going to walk into the room and see it. Well, no one else except maybe another magic worker, I don’t know. I’ve had some very weird and encouraging experiences when someone else can see the magic I’m doing somehow.”
“So, in your world, people normally can’t see the results of magic work?”
“No. I mean, you can see the end result, if the magic worked, but you aren’t going to see the energy from an energy healing or the light around a portal between worlds. Not usually, anyway. Some people claim to see those things all the time. Some people get freaked out if they see or sense anything like that even once in a while by accident. A normal person isn’t going to see anything that looks magical, though, except in the very rarest of circumstances.”
“I heard that your dog came over here, though.” She sounded hopeful.
“Yes. He followed me through the portal when he and a little kid from here locked eyes on each other and had to share snuggles. It was pretty cute and also annoying. The kid could have gotten stuck on the other side of the portal if I hadn’t grabbed her as she was about to shoot past me toward Doug.” I laughed.
“Did the toddler make it into your world and back?” She asked.
“I don’t know if the kid actually stepped into my world or not. I kind of scooped her up as I was walking into the portal, and then put her down safely on this side.”
“But your dog was able to physically cross the barrier completely, right?”
“No. His physical body was still snuggled up to me on the bed. It was just his energetic body or whatever that came over here. Morrison and Jackson both saw the real me and the real Doug on my bed when I sent Doug back through the portal.”
Miri Yazdi took a deep breath and then explained, “You aren’t going to like this, but I don’t think that Morrison should go with you to your 'verse.”
There was a knock on the open door. Miri and I looked up from our conversation to see Morrison standing there.
“Your timing is impeccable!” Miri said as she looked up at Morrison.
“What is this about not going with Uri to see his family for Shabbat?” Morrison tilted his head to one side and raised his eyebrows as if he were trying to point out that he wasn’t going on some dangerous adventure across dimensional rifts.
Miri beckoned Morrison into the room. He came in and sat down in a chair near me. Miri picked up a book from the top left corner of her desk and handed it to him.
Morrison took the book in his hands, looked at the spine and read the title, “The Dangers of Fairyland,” then he looked at Miri and said, “Yes, this book is referenced in every single treatise about not eating food in other dimensions.”
Miri looked a little perturbed now, “Have you read it?”
“No. Honestly, I didn’t even know we had a copy. There are only a handful of legitimate copies left in the world. It is well known that the paperback versions of the book that they sell in bookstores are based on a fake.”
Miri made a face and then tapped her desk with her finger a couple of times dramatically before speaking, “Did you bother to at least read the fake version?”
“Yeah, I read THAT back in the 60’s when it first came out. Akiva and I discussed all the obvious fakery in it, and then I moved on. Eating food from certain dimensions will give you the magical powers of those dimensions, but they lock you into needing the food with the same qualities as that dimension in order to survive ever after. That book,” he hooked his thumb back to show that he meant the paperback and not the one in front of him, ”claims that breathing the air in another dimension will leave you stranded there forever. As you well know, that is complete bunk. ”
“It is complete bunk as long as you are moving within the same dimensional plane as your own.”
“The whole problem of cross dimensional food is that the planes don’t line up precisely from one ‘verse to the next, so sometimes you end up in a place where the 3rd dimension is in the plane where your own ‘verse has its 5th dimension. That’s where the magic benefit comes from!” Morrison argued back.
“You are confusing planes within a ‘verse to planes of ‘verses. We’re 3 dimensional creatures who live in a universe. There are other creatures, like fae or djinn, who live in our universe as well, but in a plane above or below us. There are ghosts who are partially in our plane and partially in another plane, but they are still in the same universe as us. And there are lots of universes like ours who have a similar set of planes within the universe, but not always lined up exactly the same way. That’s not what I’m talking about here. That’s not where Uriel is from.” Miri stopped for a moment and looked from Morrison to me and back to Morrison before continuing, “Do I need to draw it out for you on the whiteboard?”
Morrison looked at me then and I could see some realization dawning across his face. It was a little bit shock and horror, a little bit delight and wonder, and then it turned to frustration.
“Are you telling me that if I so much as step into Uriel’s universe I’ll never be able to come back?”
“Oh, you’ll be able to come back alright. You’ll just have to come back the way he does. Through imagination.” Miri drew that last word out and gave it a little sing songy tune as she spread her fingers wide and drew both hands outward, miming a rainbow. “Your physical body will be trapped in the denser dimension as soon as your body takes on more than a certain – as yet unknown – quantity of particles from there, just like Ivor O'Donovan, but unlike Ivor you are unlikely to be able to use your knowledge and skills to become a petty king over there. Times have changed, my friend.”
“Are you sure of this?” Morrison scowled.
“I’m not 100% sure, but it is very much not a risk you should take. I have an idea, though, if Uriel thinks that he can give a rat a good home in the event that the rat is unable to make it back through the portal to our world.” Miri looked at me expectantly.
My mind quickly put the pieces together and then I said, “Sure. I suppose it wouldn’t matter much to a rat if it was going to end up living with a human in my dimension versus any other dimension.”
Miri smiled, “We can go talk to Benoit right now. He’s got a bunch of rats in his lab. If Benoit is OK with it, then we just have to find a rat who’s willing to go with you.”
I raised my eyebrows at that. “Willing to go with me?”
“Well, yes, of course. We don’t do experiments on anyone without their consent. It’s just that a human making that journey would have a lot more trouble fitting in if they get stuck over there. A rat can have a perfectly happy life without anyone getting upset about their lack of local history, birth certificates, university degrees, etc.” Miri explained.
“Do you get the rats' consent for all the experiments you do on them?”
“We don’t do experiments ON rats. We do experiments WITH rats. There’s a big difference. And yes, we always get their consent. We are ethical scientists and unlike some of our colleagues at other dominance-culture influenced universities, we know well enough that the rats are perfectly capable of understanding what we ask of them and giving their consent.”
Now I smiled as I imagined rats reading through forms and signing with their tiny paws before taking part in scientific experiments that conformed to Institutional Review Board procedures for sentient beings. I was so amused with the image that I pushed it out into the mental room I share with Morrison.
His face lit up with a grin and he said, “There are no tiny forms with little ratty signatures, but we have review board procedures for all experiments that might affect sentient beings, including plants, and sometimes even including things that we don’t have proof of sentience for, just in case. If consciousness is the experience of matter from the inside, as Gustav Fechner wrote, then we must be respectful of all material that we interact with, and it makes sense to take extra care that we do not cause unnecessary harm.”
“That sounds a bit extreme. How can you do anything at all if you are afraid to harm even rocks?”
“I said unnecessary harm. Death is part of life, and part of the cycle of existence. We all eat. We all walk on beings smaller than ourselves and on beings much larger than ourselves. Are we acting with respect? Are we engaging in reciprocity? If we must cause pain or distress, are we taking measures to mitigate it?” Morrison explained and Miri nodded along with him.
“That makes sense. These are ideals that I have in my heart, but I had never imagined how they could play out in practice in scientific research.”
Morrison put his hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Then he yawned really big.
“Need some coffee, hun?” I asked.
Morrison smiled at me, “Yeah, actually I could use some, or a half hour meditation on self healing. I’m a bit jet lagged. I just spent a week in Haifa working on something with Dr. Musleh. I’ll tell you about it later. Also, his wife Jafrin was annoyed at me for not bringing you along. I had to promise that you would come with me next time. She sent an inordinate amount of food home with me.”
“I thought that Dr. Musleh was in Jerusalem, and also I thought that you told me explicitly NOT to over-clock time through portal travel like that.” I scowled at him.
“Ibrahim lives in Jerusalem and his school is there as well, however, the issue that we needed to address was in Haifa. And yes, I believe I may have said something about ‘do as I say, not as I do’ on that front. But, at any rate, I got plenty of sleep while I was there. It’s just ordinary timezone changing tiredness.”
Miri was watching our conversation like it was a tennis match, and then she chimed in, “Shall we head over to Benoit’s lab and see if he’s still there?”
“Sounds like an excellent idea.” Morrison said as he stood back up.
We had to go out of the building where professor Yazdi’s office was, down a stone path between grass and flowers, past the duck pond, and then into the building with a sign out front saying, “Life Sciences.” We climbed the stairs to the third floor, and arrived at a door with the name “Benoit Mendel, PhD” on a plaque next to it. The door was not open, so Miri knocked. A student opened the door and said, “Oh! Hi!” and then stepped out of the way to let us in the room. They closed the door behind us.
The room was full of rodents. Four out of five bookshelves had open cages instead of books on them. There were pathways between the cages, and from the cages to each of the desks in the room and to the large table that looked a bit like an activity table you might find in a preschool, except the toys were geared toward small, fuzzy, four legged creatures instead of toddlers. The activities included mazes, exercise wheels, some kind of ball court, and a lounge with food and tiny couches. When we walked in, nearly everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and turned to look at us. Nearly everyone. Benoit himself was busy having a conversation with one young gerbil that seemed to be somewhat heated. The student who let us in cleared her throat dramatically. The gerbil looked in our direction at that time, but Benoit did not. A moment later, Benoit followed the gerbil’s gaze to see what they were looking at. Only then did the esteemed professor notice us.
“Oh, dear! I’m sorry!” He straightened up and stepped toward us with his right hand out. He shook Miri’s hand first, then mine, and Morrison’s last. When he got to Morrison he held onto Morrison’s hand with both of his and said, “Oh my goodness, I have not seen you in months! How are you doing? Did you know that I have Sandy in one of my classes this semester? She is a delight! Come in! Come in! Have a seat!” He gestured at a human sized couch and a set of chairs near the activity table, as he did, the few rodents that had been hanging out there scampered up and back onto the infrastructure clearly intended for rodents. “To what do I owe this visit?” He asked as all four of us sat down and his student returned to her duties cleaning and setting out food for the variety of small furry creatures throughout the room.
Miri looked to Morrison and he nodded at her, then she began, “We’ve come to find out if one of the rats would be willing to go on a slightly dangerous adventure, and if you would be willing to let them do so.” She raised her eyebrows and waited for an answer.
Several rats on the activity table moved their way closer to us as if they’d heard that opening and wanted to hear more. Benoit looked over at the rats who had gathered and then back at Miri.
“I’m not exactly anyone’s boss. If they’d like to go on an adventure I won’t try to stop them. But, I’d like to know more about the danger and what is expected of the rat who goes on it.”
Miri gestured toward me as she said, “Uriel here is from a different dimension. I suspect, but am not certain, that he is from a different plane of universes, and that his 'verse is, for lack of a better term, denser than ours. My suspicion is that someone who travels to Uriel’s homeworld will not be able to return physically to this world, just as he cannot come here physically.”
A small cacophony of rat noises broke out for a second, and then just one rat stared hard at Miri. I heard nothing, but she responded to what must have been a telepathic question, “Uriel’s physical body is sitting in his world. The body you see here is a mental projection that he creates and can change at will. I’m fairly sure that if he wanted to, he could appear here as a rat.”
Rat chatter erupted again. Benoit said, “Uriel, would you mind demonstrating?” and then he tilted his head toward the rats to let me know that they were the ones requesting the demonstration.
I looked at one of the rats for reference regarding size and general body dimensions and then began to shift first into a rat-shaped human and then finally as a full fledged rat. By the time I had reached rat size and shape the sounds of the other rats sounded like a crowd of people all talking over each other. I could understand maybe 30% of what I was hearing. It wasn’t English or any other human language I was hearing. Certain rat sounds seemed to correspond to things and concepts in a way that I could simply intuit. Other sounds made by the rats sounded like a foreign language to me. I could tell that they were communicating, but I had no grasp of what they were saying.
Not only the rats, but all the small animals in the room were excited to see that I had just turned into a rat. Suddenly I saw animals from all parts of the room start running toward me, and I panicked. I think I squealed a single high pitch squeal just before or maybe as I was transforming back into human size and shape. Luckily, Morrison popped up a shield around me before I’d finished returning to regular size. The rodents that reached as far as the shield bounced comically off a transparent bubble that turned blue only when and where something hit it. Benoit whistled and snapped his finger and every rodent in the room stopped in their tracks.
“Is that how we treat guests in this room?” Benoit scolded, then he turned to me and said, “I’m very sorry about that.”
I could hear dozens of little voices in my head as if they were speaking English, **I wasn’t going to hurt him!** and **I wanted to make friends!** and a few little voices said **I'm sorry!**
Most of the animals made their way back to their homes or wherever they were before they got so excited about my transformation, but a few were now moving up to places where they could be as close to eye level with me as possible.
I heard one voice coming from a silver rat who was still up on the activity table. **So, when we come back here, we’ll be able to shapeshift, too?**
Miri responded, “I don’t know for sure, but I think that if you are physically stuck in that other world, then when you visit here you will be able to take any shape that your mind is able to imagine yourself being. However, remember that your physical body will be stuck there, so you won’t be able to spend a whole lot of time here.”
**So, what’s the limit? Is there an arbitrary time constriction? Or is it just a matter of making sure that the body over there is fed and healthy?** The same rat asked calmly and seriously.
“I’m pretty sure that it’s the second. We have record of only three verified descriptions of a human magic worker from this ‘verse meeting someone from another ‘verse who said that they could only travel here in a meditation or with medicinal assistance. In each case, the person from our 'verse ended up physically stranded in that world when they tried to visit the other 'verse. The reason we have records about it is because each of these three did come back here using the same techniques as the other traveler had, and shared what they learned in the other place. It is unlikely that all three other ‘verses are the same place based on drastic differences in the reports that we have. It is theorized that these other ‘verses are part of a completely different set of universes which have at least one core difference from all of the 'verses that we normally hear about and travel to.
“Mind you, I’m not 100% sure that Uriel lives in a 'verse where it is impossible to come back here physically. I only know that he does not currently know how to come here physically, and it may not be possible. I also know that neither Morrison nor I have been able to determine the coordinates of Uriel’s 'verse using any of the usual tools or spells.”
**I’ll do it.** The rat at the edge of the activity table said.
“Wait,” I jumped in, “I have to tell you the rest of the danger involved.
“First off, if you do get stuck over there with me, you will not have the kind of freedom that you have here, unless you want me to release you into the wild and wish you good luck out there all on your lonesome. If you live with me, in my house, you’ll be stuck in a cage most of the time.
“Also, I live with a dog who will love you and desperately want to be your friend, but he is a danger to you despite his best intentions. You can only be friends with him through a plastic wall. Do you understand what I mean here?” I think that the rat nodded, and I continued, “If you are stuck with me over there, I will do my best to make your life as comfortable and happy as it can be, but it won’t be the same as what you have here.”
The rat’s eyes twinkled as he said, **I think it’s worth the risk.**
“What’s your name?” I asked.
The rat rolled his eyes and said, **Twinkle.** and then said, **Please don’t hold that against me. I didn’t pick it**
I tried to hide my smile and asked as seriously as I could, “Would you prefer I call you something different?”
**Not Mickey. Not Fluff. Not Snowball. Gods, please, never Pinky and also not Brain. They are mice, by the way, and I am a rat. Sorry, right now all I can think of is names I don’t want.**
“How about I call you Mr T until you tell me differently. If you want to try out different names, just let me know.”
**I think that works just fine.**
Benoit nodded and said, “Mr T is a great guy. He’s an excellent choice for the journey. If he does get stuck over there, you will have a good friend.”
“Do you have a starter cage that I can take him over in? Something big and sturdy enough that he can stay there for at least 24 hours?” I asked, worried that I wouldn’t be able to go pick up a new cage until sometime Saturday evening.
The student who I’d almost forgotten was in the room with us spoke up and said, “I can go grab something.”
She opened a closet, disappeared inside and then came out with a small, clear plastic box with a ventilated roof and a closed connector port that could plug in to one of the popular modular rodent cage systems. The likelihood that our two universes would share standards in these cages seemed pretty small, but I could hack some cludge together in the future if need be.
The student went over to the table where Mr T was perched and gathered him up. She brought him up to her face and they gave each other a sweet little nuzzle before she put him in the travel cage. She looked up at me and said, “Please take good care of him. He’s a very good rat.”
“I will. And even if he gets stuck, he can probably come over for visits the same way that I do. If my dog could do it, I’m sure that Mr T can. So, you won’t have to worry. He’ll tell you himself if I’m being a good human or not.” I smiled.
She handed me the cage with Mr T in it.
There was an awkward pause like no one knew exactly what to do next. Or maybe they were all expecting me to say or do something. Finally I said, “Um, should I just try to cross over and back now?”
Miri responded, “Why don’t you open a portal back home and cross over but leave the portal open for a moment and then see if you both can come back after just a few seconds.”
“OK,” I said before looking down at the rat and saying, “You ready, young adventurer?”
I opened a portal back to my bedroom and stepped through. I didn’t reintegrate with my body. I stood there on the other side of the portal in my room with the caged rat in my hands for about ten seconds. My real body was still sitting on the bed, eyes closed. Doug sat next to my body on the bed and watched curiously as I came across. He whined a little to let me know that he wanted to come see who was in the box I was carrying, but I told him to stay and he did. I counted to 20.
“You think that’s long enough?” I asked Miri.
“For a first try, I think it is. Come on back.”
I stepped forward with the box in front of me. The box went back through the portal, but the rat did not. On the other side of the portal but in my own world, a spot obscured by my view of the Crows’ World, I could hear Mr T swear like a sailor as he fell towards the floor. Doug jumped to his feet and barked, and I realized that if I didn’t get back into my physical body and restrain him, he might try to go after the rat.
I opened my eyes to return to my physical body and grabbed Doug’s collar. “Sit!” I commanded, and Doug sat. He whined again.
By the time I looked up, Mr T was halfway to the top of one of my bookshelves. I could sort of see the portal still, but it was like a dark and fuzzy imagined thing, not real at all. I felt as if I were imagining the view on the other side rather than seeing it. I couldn’t tell if I was telling myself the story of what I was seeing or if I was actually seeing things unfold on the other side. The cage had made it back over the portal’s threshold in my hands, but dropped to the floor when I opened my eyes and pulled my ethereal body back into the physical one. There was a moment of shock followed by everyone on the other side moving as close to the portal as they could without going through it. I could hear them calling to me and Mr T and asking if we were OK, and the effect was so weird. As it happened, I experienced the sound as strangely muted, but an instant later and my memory of it was as if it had been full volume and completely normal sound. The student who had gathered up the cage for me in the Crows’ World now picked up the cage where it had fallen in the lab on their side. She gently tossed the cage through the portal and it landed softly on the carpet on my side.
I got up off the bed saying, “I’m OK. Mr T’s OK. Just a minute. Let me get things settled.” I turned to Doug again and said, “Stay.” He laid down on the bed with his head toward where all the action was happening.
I picked up the cage, and now that I was in my physical body I walked through the faint interdimensional portal as if it weren’t there at all. I put the cage under the edge of the shelf where Mr T. was perched and he climbed down into it. Then I moved some books out of the way and put the cage on the shelf at about my eye level, high enough that Doug couldn’t reach it and for Mr T. to have a clear view of the whole room.
“Well,” Mr T. said, “We have our answer.”
“Yup,” I said with a sad sigh. “Are you going to be OK over here for a few minutes while I go back and talk with the others?”
“Sure thing. Doug and I can have a chat while you are away.”
I looked down at Doug who was still laying on the bed like a good boy, wagging his stubby tail as fast as it could go. I knew that he really wanted to see Mr T up close, but he can’t climb the shelves, so everything should be fine. I hoped.
“OK. I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”
I went back to sit on the bed again. Doug curled up next to me and stuck his head in my lap. I put my hand on the back of his neck and scritched just the way he likes as I was getting myself comfy and ready to go back to a meditative state. I took a few breaths, grounded myself, and then I dropped back down into the meditation. I stepped out of my body and onto the floor next to my bed. I turned to look at myself on the bed and could see two Dougs. One was snuggled up to my physical body where I sat. The other was sitting up, attentive, hoping to be invited across to the other side. I was not going to bring my black lab mutt into a room full of free roaming rodents.
“Sorry, Doug, you need to stay here.”
His ears fell, and his tail stopped wagging.
“I’ll be right back,” I told him right before stepping through the still open portal to the other side.
I left the portal open when I arrived back at the lab because I was concerned about what might happen in that room if Doug didn’t know that we could see him. He might not be able to climb the shelf, but he could still make poor Mr T very nervous for no good reason. This weekend we’d have to do some work to get to the point where the two of them felt comfortable with the boundaries between their lives in my little house.
Back in the lab, everyone was recovering from the tension of those seconds between the rat not making it through the portal and knowing that he was safe on the other side. A large crowd of rats had gathered up on the play table where they could get a good look through the portal to my bedroom on the other side. They couldn’t see their friend, but they could see the world that he now inhabited.
I was the first to speak, “So, I don’t get it. Why was that little girl able to run through the portal and come right back?”
“I suspect that you caught her fast enough that she wasn’t able to take a breath on the other side,” Miri responded. “My hypothesis is that the density of your world is such that as soon as even a few molecules of that 'verse’s substance are taken into a body, the body is no longer able to cross back to this 'verse.”
“How can one world be denser than another? Do you mean like atoms have different atomic weights over there?” The student lab assistant asked.
“Honestly, we don’t have a good word for the kind of density I mean. Lots of folklore describes some idea of spiritual density or magical density. Sometimes they describe it as different vibrational frequencies. Sometimes it’s described vaguely as having more or less ‘divine essence’. No one has ever been able to use the tools of science to figure out what the actual difference is, though. Maybe, now that we have a known example of the phenomenon we can do some research and figure it out,” Miri suggested.
A light seemed to turn on behind the lab assistant’s eyes. “Oh! I wonder if Mr T and I could run some tests together once he learns how to come back here the way that Uriel does!”
Benoit and Miri looked at each other. His eyebrows were raised and her head was tilted to the side, considering the idea. Then they both nodded and Benoit said, “We can definitely talk about that. Dr Yazdi would need to be an advisor on that research, though.” He looked pleased, and so did both Miri and the lab assistant..
“I’m kind of disappointed, and a little frustrated now, to be honest,” I grumped.
Benoit looked surprised. Miri looked sorry. Morrison put his hand around my upper arm and gently tugged me towards him, then gave me a big hug.
“I’m sorry, hun. I was looking forward to meeting your family and spending Shabbat with you, too.”
I buried my head in his cloak. I wanted to just stay there, but obviously I had to be a grown up and deal with reality. I sighed loudly, pulled myself away, and composed myself.
Morrison reassured me, “I’m still going to be with you all weekend,” he poked my forehead between the eyes gently and made a silly “Pop!” noise with his lips.
I laughed. “Yeah, ok, I know.” I groaned.
We turned our attention back to the others and I said, “Well, I’d better get back over there and make sure that Mr T is comfortable and has everything he needs.”
The student lab assistant said, “Wait a minute! I didn’t really think he’d be stuck over there. You’re going to need a bottle and a food dish. And maybe some toys.” She ran back to the closet and shoved a bunch of things into a bag.
“Lily! Don’t worry so much. I’m sure that Uriel knows how to care for a rat, and Mr T is also able to take care of and advocate for himself,” Benoit said.
The student looked up and I could see that her eyes were filling with tears. A few escaped her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She pulled her hand into her long sleeve and wiped her face dry.
I opened my arms to offer her a hug. She came over with the bag of supplies in her hand and hugged me.
“Hey, now, he’s going to be back here very soon. He’s just going to have to come over the way that I do. If he can’t make a portal of his own, I’ll make portals for him. If a Doug can come over here,” I paused for a moment to pull away from her and make sure she could see my face before adding, “which he has done in the past!” I made sure that she registered those words before continuing, “I am absolutely certain that Mr T will be back here very soon.”
“I know,” She said, wiping her face again. “I’m not even sure why I’m crying. I know he’ll be back here, but I’m just worried for him, and I don’t know why, but I just feel like I miss him already.”
I looked up toward Morrison and said, “I know exactly what you mean, Lily.”
She looked at Morrison and nodded, “Yeah, I guess you do.” She looked back at me and said, “My best friend is a rat. Who is now in another universe. That’s a little weird, huh?”
I smiled really big, “Weird for some, maybe, but I have a make-believe boyfriend who’s from a comic book series, and I travel through a magical portal to visit him and to learn from his colleagues at a university in a city inside an old synagogue building.”
Lily laughed, “I guess when you put it that way…” She trailed off, shaking her head and brushing away tears at the same time as she laughed.
She handed me the bag of things that she’d grabbed from the closet. I took the bag and gave her one last side hug. I hoped she felt a little comforted.
“Alright, hun,” Morrison said, “Why don’t you get back to Doug and Mr T. I’ll check in on you in an hour or so. Call on me if you need anything before then.”
“OK.” I gave Morrison another hug and a kiss good bye before turning to Miri and Benoit, “I’ll see you guys on Saturday night, motzei shabbat.”
“That sounds good,” Miri replied. “Where would you like to meet?”
“Well, now that we know that someone could get stuck if they accidentally went through the portal I open, I’m going to start coming back here through a portal in my own apartment. Do you want to come meet me over there, or should I come back to the university?”
Morrison jumped in, “Shabbat won’t end here until almost 9:30. That will make for a very late night if the conversation gets deep. Let’s do Sunday morning instead. How about you portal in to my living room at 8am, and we can all meet there. I’ll ask Shaun to have some breakfast and coffee ready for us. We can figure out next steps then.”
Benoit nodded, “That sounds like an imminently sensible plan.”
“I’m teaching a community workshop at 2pm on Sunday, but my morning is wide open.”
“Can I come, too?” Lily asked shyly.
“Well, if you are going to be doing research on what makes our ‘verses different, you’d better be there,” Miri responded.
Benoit nodded in agreement.
Lily’s face brightened, and she looked as if a weight had been lifted off of her. She looked through the portal and then back at me. “I’ll see you on Sunday morning.”
“See y’all on Sunday!” I said and then I walked back through the portal and closed it up behind me.