Stellar Placebo

“This is a new one,” Lloyd said. He was used to showing up in dim alleys near a crowded street. Sometimes it was day, sometimes it was night. He saw bits of each Earth when he stepped out to ask, but he had never landed inside somewhere. Much less somewhere clean and empty. A gleaming white marble floor replaced the pot-hole riddled blacktop. Smooth white pillars replaced the dirty white-grey concrete buildings on either side of him.

“Stick to the plan,” he reminded himself. He looked up and down the wide white hallway and picked a direction. After a few minutes of walking and admiring the marble hallway, he reached an intersection. Then, he heard footsteps before he picked a direction; he chose to follow the footsteps. Lloyd turned the corner and froze in his tracks.

The most beautiful woman that Lloyd had ever seen walked toward him. She looked like she was on her way too or from one of her many workouts. A green towel hung around her neck and matched her green shorts. A white tank top showed off her lean, muscular arms. Her chestnut hair framed her face perfectly and her eyes were filled with stars. A golden star glowed brightly in the center of each eye.

“Hola, Estrella,” she said with a smile and adjusted her course to stop and chat with him.

“Hi!” Lloyd said. “stick to the plan,” he reminded himself again. He did not know why she called him an estrella, but it did not matter. He would be on to the next Earth in a few minutes. “I’m taking a poll and I was wondering if you could answer a question for me?” he said while his hand dipped into his pocket.

“Are you now?” the woman asked with an amused smile. “Of course, I’ll be happy to give you any information you need. Hey, that’s a nice phone,” she said when Lloyd pulled his phone out. He felt a bit of pride at her statement. It felt good that someone finally noticed it.

“Thanks!” Lloyd said cheerfully. “I have a bit of music here and I just want to know if you’ve heard this song before, okay?” he asked as he tapped and swiped at his phone.

“Can do,” she said with a nod. Lloyd hit ‘Play’ on the song and the woman’s face lit up the instant she heard the first few seconds.

“I love that song!” she said. Lloyd sighed and nodded.

“185,” he mumbled to himself.

“What’s wrong? Don’t you like the song?” she asked. Lloyd shook his head as a reflex, then transitioned it into a nod.

“Yeah, I love the song too,” he said. “Anyway, thanks for answering my question,” Lloyd began looking around the four-way intersection. He couldn’t make anything out down any of the halls and decided it would be easier to go back the way he came. “Gotta go now,” he said with a wave, then turned his back to her and started walking.

“Go where?” the woman asked suddenly. Her voice sounded like she was holding back a laugh. She caught up to Lloyd and continued to follow him.

“Uh, I have to go turn in the survey results,” he said. As much as he would have loved a woman that beautiful following him around on his home Earth, he wasn’t on his home Earth. He didn’t know where he was and someone following him around asking questions was something he wasn’t prepared for.

“Turn them in to whom?” she asked. Somehow her questions made Lloyd feel like he was being mocked. It felt like she knew he was lying and waiting for him to admit it.

Fine, I’ll admit it,” Lloyd decided. “I’m never going to see her again, and we’re alone so no one will believe her.” He realized that he did not need to be hidden to travel to another Earth. He stopped walking and turned to face her.

“You won’t believe me, but it doesn’t matter,” Lloyd stared directly into her starry eyes. “I’m from a different universe, and the song that I played for you exists in every other universe. I’m traveling to universes asking people if they’ve heard it to try and solve the mystery of why it’s everywhere.” The woman’s smile grew wider as he talked, but she did not laugh. Lloyd reached into his pocket and pulled out the black plastic cube.

“Nice meeting you,” he said. Before he pressed the button, it disappeared from his hand. The woman swiped it before he even saw her move.

“What’s this?” she asked. Lloyd registered that she took the device at the same moment that he saw her press the button. He meant to yell “NOOOO” but, nothing happened. She pressed the red button several more times and it made an empty clicking noise each time.

“Ohhhhh,” she said suddenly. “Is this what you used?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s how I hop universes,” Lloyd said hoping she’d return it. Instead, she broke it open and looked inside.

“Hehe,” she giggled lightly then handed the parts back to Lloyd. “I believe you,” she said. “But you’re wrong.”

“Huh?”

“It’s true you are from a different universe. But that song doesn’t exist in every other universe. And that little doodad isn’t how you hop universes.” Lloyd felt obligated to defend his time spent searching for the song.

“I’ve found it in 186 universes so far! There’s gotta be a reason,” he said. The woman nodded.

“There is. You’re looking for it,” she said.

“What? That doesn’t make any sense. How could it be in every single universe I’ve visited?”

“Pretend you got into a cab,” she said. “And you tell the cab driver you want to go somewhere you can get…,” she shrugged. “…whatever, fried chicken. So the cab takes you to a restaurant, and you pick fried chicken. When you leave that restaurant, you tell the next cab driver you want fried chicken. If you kept that up, it would be easy to say, ‘Every restaurant I visited has fried chicken’ right?”

“185 universes!” Lloyd said loudly. That number had to be significant. The woman shrugged.

“How many universes are there?” she asked. Lloyd’s eyes widened. He had never stopped to consider that question.

“I- I don’t know,” he admitted.

“No one does, but the word: ‘infinity’ gets tossed around a lot. So, do you think 185 is important in the context of infinity?” she asked. Lloyd sighed.

“Thanks, now I’m disillusioned and I can’t even get home,” he said. The woman’s dam finally broke and all her laughter came flooding out.

“You soldered a button to a quartz crystal,” she said between guffaws. “I already told you, that thing wasn’t how you got between universes.”

“Right, so the power was in me all along?” Lloyd asked sarcastically, but the woman nodded.

“Like I said, Hola Estrella.”

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