Kyle sat alone at a small table in a barren coffee shop. Golden sunlight dragged long shadows across the empty tables and chairs. Dozens of pedestrians wandered by, their shadows sliding over the lone, bookish man. He wore a well-fitting burgundy tweed suit with a bright violet bow-tie and he nervously fidgeted with a small glassy rectangle. The transparent rectangle was as small as a playing card and just as thin. It was impossibly tough. He tested it himself up to a .22. It survived the slug with nary a scratch. Kyle tapped the glass to read the time and sighed; he’d already been waiting over half an hour.
“It’s my own fault for being early,” he thought. He showed up to his appointment early hoping to use the ambiance of a bustling coffee shop to dissolve his nerves. Instead, he got a slightly annoyed manager forced to close his shop earlier than expected. Instead of easing his nerves; the empty coffee shop magnified them. “What kind of person closes a coffee shop for a meeting?” he wondered as his fears began to flutter in his stomach. “It’s my own fault for agreeing to meet…. for poking around like I always do,…” he whined mentally to fill the wait.
Two minutes after he checked the time, right on time for their meeting, a woman walked out of the kitchen. The sudden noise startled Kyle. When the manager left Kyle gave himself a tour; there hadn’t been anyone else in the shop. All the doors were locked as far as he knew and he didn’t hear them open anyway. The woman was tall, lean and pale. She had short dark hair and wore a crisp, perfect white dress-suit.
“Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. Dyson,” the woman said. She sat at Kyle’s table and gave him a courteous, professional smile.
“I won’t say anything!” Kyle blurted out. His nerves flared into paranoia. He frantically shook his head. “No one would believe me anyway. The woman nodded in understanding.
“They wouldn’t,” she said. “But you…,” she deliberately, obviously looked him up and down. “What prompted your search? Most people wouldn’t consider the possibility of what you’ve found; why did you?” she asked. Kyle shrugged.
“One day I had a thought,” he said. “It was just a normal day otherwise but for some reason, I remember it as the first time I had that thought. I was getting the mail and then it hit me; there are other universes,” Kyle sighed. “I knew it. The same way I know…,” he spread his arms wide to gesture at the empty coffee shop around them. “…we’re sitting here on a Monday morning; it felt like a concrete fact.” He dropped his arms. “It faded after a while, but every now and then I’d ‘know’ it again randomly.” The woman listened intently and nodded at the appropriate places as she listened to Kyle’s explanation.
“Then, I never got a package I was expecting. I didn’t care much at first but the longer it took to arrive the more I started feeling like it was in another universe somehow,” he shrugged. “Don’t ask me how. Anyway, no one I talked to had any idea. One night I was almost frantic about it. I felt like I had to do something so I wrote a letter and dropped it in the mailbox,” he chuckled and lifted the glassy rectangle. “Do you want this back?” he asked. The woman shook her head once. The day after sending his letter, Kyle received a small white box with a red scissor logo on the top; there was no postage. The box contained the clear gadget in his hands and instructions to set up a meeting. Nothing else. Not even instructions on how to use the thing beyond arranging the appointment.
“No, that node is yours to keep. Don’t be nervous, Mr. Dyson. I asked to meet with you because…,” she pulled a wrinkled envelope from the inside of her jacket and placed it on the table. “…it takes a certain amount of insanity to address a letter to: ‘The Head of the Alternate Universe’,” she smirked. “And I could use someone that embraces that kernel of insanity like you did.” Kyle’s eyes widened.
“You… you’re offering me a job?” he asked. “Do you know what I do?” She nodded curtly.
“You’re a mortician by trade, but that’s not what I need you for,” she said. “What’s your favorite number?” she asked quickly.
“46,” Kyle said. He blinked, surprised, then gave his head a quick shake and moved on. “What do you need me for then?”
“It’s less a job and more like a voluntary study,” she said matter-of-factly. “In exchange for letting us poke and prod you, you won’t lack any comforts. And you’ll get to see some of the other universes that you know are out there.” Kyle nodded.