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Chapter 2

Several days after his conversation with Narayanan, Kent was walking through the halls of the college. He was on his way to meet his advisor, Dr. Ken Warai.

Kent Cletis Cyrus Slade, intensely ashamed of his bizarre middle name, had been graduated magna cum laude, and had gotten a bachelor's degree in astronautical engineering. He had gone to Japan, and this college in particular, to become the graduate student of Dr. Warai because of his reputation in the field. Dr. Warai wasn't well-known outside his field, but he was acknowledged as brilliant, if unconventional, within it. Kent had begun to learn Japanese because one of his favorite middle-school teachers in the United States had known it, and began to teach it to him. California was Kent's home state, and home to many Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese descent, so he was able to continue learning, and was fluent by the time he left for Japan. This was fortunate, because Dr. Warai had struggled with English in school, and delighted in talking at incredible speed in Japanese.

Dr. Warai and Kent had hit it off from the start, when Kent had sent the first email of what became a lengthy correspondence. Kent had flown over for a few days to see if he actually would enjoy committing vast amounts of money and time to his education, and was further convinced he had found the right advisor. Dr. Warai believed in hard work, but was fair. He had informally reserved a place for him among his graduate students, a great consolation for Kent, since he didn't want to spend so much money on application fees, airfare, housing, and tuition, only to lose the prize for which he had labored.

Kent had plenty of time to get to his meeting, even if something unexpected happened.

A man in a lab coat walked out of the cafeteria, looked at Kent, and ran in front of him.

"Hey, wait a minute, please! You're Kate Staid, aren't you! No, wait, I know it, it's Kent Slade! I've heard so much about you! Wait, did I introduce myself? I guess it was only in my mind. I'm Dr. Ken Sanada. I'm so very pleased to meet you!" This delivery was roared in a voice that could've shaken the school to its foundations if it had not escaped so quickly. Dr. Sanada took Kent's hand in a handshake that threatened to either crush it or shake it off his limb. He probably would've tried to give Kent a manly bearhug, except that Kent had stepped back slightly.

Had Dr. Sanada been waiting in the cafeteria to ambush him? In a lab coat? Well, the lab coat wasn't so odd, the scientists around here loved to wear them. Slade was a little surprised to think that Dr. Sanada, the rumored mad scientist, had heard of him, but he supposed rumors worked both ways. It was quite an odd coincidence that Dr. Sanada had now sought him out, just when Kent had been trying to clear Dr. Sanada's reputation in absentia.

"I would like to offer to you, young man, a job!" Dr. Sanada said with a self-satisfied grin.

"Dr. Sanada," said Kent, surprised he could get a word in edgewise, "I'm afraid I already have an advisor."

"Oh, yeah, Dr. Warai. Yeah, but I was just talking to him, about this proposition that I have. A side job!" he concluded triumphantly.

Kent waited with patient interest for more details.

"You have the unique opportunity to not only visit, but explore, a parallel world!"

Slade blinked. "That's possible?"

"Why not?" Dr. Sanada asked in confusion.

"Well, sir, you're the dimensional physicist, I guess you know. I simply wasn't aware that there actually were any confirmed parallel universes," Kent said, not wishing to offend Dr. Sanada with his honest surprise.

"You'd be the one to confirm my theory!" Dr. Sanada exclaimed.

"I don't understand sir," said a bewildered Kent. "I'd be going to a place that may not exist?"

"I'm sure it exists! Look how much tension there is between nations! Look how unstable the world economy is! See how no one accepts my theories!" Dr. Sanada said conclusively.

Kent Slade was sorely confused. He couldn't see how any of that would be caused by a parallel world. Kent wasn't sure that he knew what exactly a parallel world was. Did Dr. Sanada mean the sort of thing that Slade read about in science fiction, or a more boring and limited, but stranger and more useful thing that was actually real?

He remembered Narayanan's advice, to go with the flow of Dr. Sanada's mind. He was glad he had been advised that, for there seemed no alternative except to bid the eccentric professor adieu. "How would I go to this other universe, Dr. Sanada?" Kent asked. "And how would I get back?"

"You'd use my greatest creation, the Super-Ultra-Deluxe Parallel World Transporter!"

Kent waited a few seconds, then prodded, "How would I get back, Dr. Sanada?"

Dr. Sanada looked at Kent quizzically. "I was hoping for your reaction to the name."

Kent shrugged. "I'm not sure I understand its name, Dr. Sanada, but I would like to understand how a person could return from the parallel world."

Dr. Sanada crossed his arms and fumed, "I think it's a great name, really. It's really deluxe, especially compared to the last model. This one actually has leather cushions on the seat. My first model didn't have any padding at all."

Kent was tired of following Dr. Sanada's mind, but tapped all of his reserves of patience to ask again about how he would return. Dr. Sanada recovered from his funk to remark candidly, "Well, once you're there, it'll be simple. You'd explore as long as you like, and then you can just find me in that universe, my counterpart who is over there. He'll send you home!"

Astonishment filled Kent's mind. Was this seriously his plan for returning? What if he couldn't meet Dr. Sanada in the parallel world? What if Dr. Sanada were dead or had never existed in the first place in the other world? Kent knew that the doctor was not an engineer, and that engineers were considered obsessed with redundancy and backups, but he would've thought Dr. Sanada would've at least come up with a Plan B in case this idea didn't work out. Yet Dr. Sanada seemed surprised at the prospect.

"I'm very dependable, and the other me would be too! We wouldn't leave you in an uncomfortable situation!" Perhaps he was more offended than surprised. Kent didn't want to offend him, but felt obliged to point out potential problems and help to solve them. That was what engineers did.

"I know you wouldn't mean to, Dr. Sanada," Kent said clearly, "but there's not a lot you could do about it if you never were born in the other world. Sir, all I'm saying is that there needs to be some sort of independent device for the return trip."

Dr. Sanada actually appeared to be seriously considering Kent's words. The haze of frenzy which enshrouded him was evidently not impervious.

For his part, Kent was surprised to hear himself discussing travel to a parallel world with Dr. Sanada as though it were rational. On the one hand, Kent had no way to know of whether it was or not, yet he was skeptical of the prospect. Didn't it violate some rule of quantum mechanics? Perhaps he was misremembering those rules, though. It still seemed unlikely.

"Oh, no," muttered Dr. Sanada. "I'm half an hour late for the class I'm teaching again." He sprinted down the hallway, shouting back at Kent, "Sorry to leave you so soon! Think about my offer!"

Kent easily managed to meet Dr. Warai on time. In fact, both of them were early for their meeting together, but they both enjoyed doing that because they liked being early. They greeted each other warmly and had their usual conversations about the current research project. When that conversation was exhausted, Dr. Warai smiled slightly.

"May I speak on another subject, Dr. Warai?" queried Kent.

Dr. Warai queried in return, "I presume it has to do with my colleague Dr. Sanada and his offer?" Dr. Warai's smile widened. He had sensed Kent's uneasiness, and suspected this was the cause.

"Yes sir," Kent replied with a rueful grin, realizing that Dr. Warai had deduced what had happened.

"I hope you'll forgive my colleague's eccentricities. He means well."

"I do, sir. Sir, did he ask you about offering me a part-time job?" Kent asked nervously.

"Dr. Sanada did ask me if it'd be all right, and I told him it would be all right. You don't have to take it if you don't want to. I just was going to suggest to you anyways that you might want to take some sort of part time job, and as you've found, it can be easier to agree with Dr. Sanada than to put up any sort of resistance to him." Dr. Warai chuckled slightly.

"You've helped me to get quite a few fellowships, doctor," Kent offered diffidently.

"Not for the money," Dr. Warai clarified, and as his enthusiasm kindled, his speech increased in velocity, "but for the experience. Real-world experience, you know, where things can go disastrously wrong and yet everyone survives at the end. Like being a waiter at a restaurant, that was one of mine. I dropped four trays of dirty dishes on three separate occasions one supper, we didn't have enough dishes for all the customers and were constantly washing more, but we all survived that night, and we learned how to recover from mistakes. More than that, we learned to order more dishes so we wouldn't face that emergency again. Four whole trays of dirty dishes!" Dr. Warai and Kent began to laugh together.

"I see, sir. What do you recommend about Dr. Sanada's offer, sir?" Kent said once their laughter was finished.

Dr. Warai was thoughtful. "Perhaps you should. I don't know much about it myself, though. It's totally out of the realm of astronautics. You probably thought he was joking, didn't you?"

"I hope I didn't offend him with my astonishment," Kent admitted.

"Well, it astonished me too. I have no idea whether he is actually anywhere close to sending things to a parallel world, or what proof anyone has that such a thing exists. Perhaps he's convinced that there is another world, but hasn't actually quite proven it, and it's research, not exploration, that the job is actually about. Even if it was exploration, it does sound exciting, doesn't it?" Dr. Warai seemed a little surprised at Kent's lack of enthusiasm.

"It is exciting, sir, but dangerous too. I could handle some danger, if only there were more plans to handle dangers and difficulties. Dr. Sanada hasn't even got a certain way of retrieving people from the other world! If I went today, I might never get back!" Kent said with some passion: this was his life he was talking about.

"I didn't know it was that bad," murmured Dr. Warai, shocked.

"To be fair, he did seem to consider my concerns, but I'd rather not visit places without any method of getting back," Kent said, forcing himself to calm down.

Dr. Warai thought a moment, then began to speak rapidly and excitedly. "Don't go if there are any problems, Slade. That obviously wouldn't be a good idea. But I think that you've already helped Dr. Sanada immensely, and you might find great value in helping him more. Slade, I recommend that you consider it."

Kent frowned, but agreed, "I'll consider it."

Dr. Warai had a nostalgic look in his eye. "Slade," he said, "did you know, I met Dr. Rara, and Dr. Sanada, at one of my astronautics conferences?"

"An astronautics conference?" Kent was surprised.

"Yes, I didn't even know that Dr. Sanada was part of the faculty here, he's such a recluse. Anyhow, they both came to hear my paper on reasons why interstellar colonization was a good idea, and possible methods on how to do it. They both talked to me later, said they loved my paper, and agreed completely." He smiled at the memory of their praise. "It might even have been the first time Dr. Rara and Dr. Sanada met, but I'm not sure. They certainly knew each other by the time they came to see me. Both of them were suggesting their own ideas for interstellar colonization, and they each claimed the other had stolen theirs. It was clear to me that they were both so similar in enthusiasm that their thoughts had to be similar."

Kent was at a loss to explain the range of interests encompassed by the duo of Dr. Sanada and Dr. Rara: professional dimensional physicists, amateur archaeologists, and interstellar colonization apologists. Was there a common thread, or were they simply modern Renaissance men?

What reasons there were for Kent's lack of interest were clear; the eccentricities of Dr. Sanada, the possibly ludicridity of his plans, and the dangers to life, limb, and sanity involved in attempting to visit a place that might not exist. Kent had to admit, though, that the prospect of exploring, of seeing for himself a place that he, least of anyone, expected to find, was tantalizing. Did he really believe in coincidences, or was there purpose and structure to all of this? The opportunity had been placed squarely in his path, almost without effort on his own part. Was it right to disdain it because of its strangeness and danger? In doing so, he would be disdaining those who had offered it to him, for it was the fruit of their labors. On the other hand, was it right to bite into the fruit before he was sure it wasn't a bad apple?

"Dr. Warai," Kent decided, "this is the idea I've just come to. I think I'll talk to Dr. Sanada and offer to work for him on the parallel world transporter for a time, so I can hopefully learn whether another world even exists and if it is possible to travel to it. Sir, I'll make it clear from the beginning that I will not go to that other world if I deem any part of the plan too risky."

Dr. Warai nodded. "I approve of it. Please do remember your last sentence. Risk is unavoidable, but taking unnecessary risk is unwise."

Kent nodded in return. He knew that his suspicions that Dr. Sanada's parallel world didn't exist at all might be true or untrue. Kent knew the risks, knew that his time with Dr. Sanada might result in a dead end in research or his own death in an attempt to visit the other world. He feared what his own soul had decided in this matter, but he knew above all else that the only reason he had for declining Dr. Sanada's own offer was fear. Kent would use that fear to force Dr. Sanada to build in safeguards and redundancies, but would not let fear be his master. Should the time ever come that the risks of visiting another universe were as understood and controlled as possible, Kent Slade decided that he would make the journey despite any and all fears that welled up within him.

Making that journey was, after all, an exciting and interesting prospect.

"I will help you with one part of the job," Dr. Warai continued, "which is to help you check the schematics for Dr. Sanada's main device, which will be transporting you. After all," he joked, "we wouldn't want you to get killed! Not before our own research project is done!" Kent laughed with him.

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