“Um, I’m not trained for this,” Leo stared blankly at the control panel.
“No, but somehow you managed to open the portal and get back to your Earth,” a pale woman in a white suit said. She stood nearby watching over Leo’s shoulder, while another woman in a dark suit stood behind her. “Somehow you picked the correct button to open a portal. Do it again.”
“‘Do it again.’ Pffft, like it’s that easy,” Leo grumbled mentally. He couldn’t remember what button he pushed; he was too busy panicking at the time. After two weeks in the alternate wilderness, he returned to an abandoned camp. He waited several days after that hoping someone would appear but no one did. Finally, his frustration boiled over and he banged on the console that he’d seen used dozens of times. Then, a portal opened.
Four stressful and very public days later he stood in a private lab with Dana Sharp and her assistant, Melody. Leo had no idea who they were or where they came from. He heard Ms. Sharp’s name dozens of times before he met her. The only thing he did learn over the past several days was that every government in the world treated the individual Dana Sharp as a superior.
After several silent seconds, Leo pressed a random button. He let his eyes roam over the black, unlabeled buttons looking for a clue. He hoped one might appear more worn than the others, but all the buttons looked polished and untouched. He raised his hand and let it fall on any button, then he looked up at the portal platform. Nothing happened.
“Try a different one,” Dana said. Behind her, Melody’s attention was focused on a tablet.
“Sure,” Leo shrugged and pressed a different random button. A black portal opened on the metal platform.
“Close it,” Dana instructed. Leo pressed the button again, and the portal disappeared. “Open it again.” Leo pressed the button a third time; nothing happened.
“Hey,” Leo looked up at Ms. Sharp at the same time Melody spoke to her.
“Got it,” Melody said. Ms. Sharp nodded.
“Try again,” she told Leo. “Pick a different button.” He but nothing happened. “One more time, a different one.” Leo was starting to find the process annoying.
“Last one,” he said and picked one of the three he hadn’t touched yet. The portal opened despite not pressing the same ‘On’ button as before. “Hey, what’s going on?” Leo asked. Dana sharp smiled.
“I have been working on a security system of sorts. Thanks to you I found a vulnerability. Thanks to you…,” She nodded at the control panel. “…it’s fixed.”
“Huh? What kind of security system? I just pressed some buttons,” Leo shrugged. Ms. Sharp nodded.
“When I learned your Earth was trying to make a claim on my Earth, I decided to block access.”
“Your Earth? There were no humans there!”
“I like my privacy,” Ms. Sharp said. “That being said, there are those that are capable of traveling to my Earth without using a portal machine. I thought I accounted for them, but I forgot a detail. That’s you.”
“Me?! What’s so special about me?” Leo asked.
“Melody, show him,” Ms. Sharp said.
“Yes, Ms. Sharp,” Melody replied and stepped closer to the control console. She grabbed the sides and pulled up. The surface came off and she twirled it over to show off the underside. The bottoms of the buttons were there, but all the wires were unattached.
“Pretend you’re pressing the button that turns on the portal,” Dana said. “It doesn’t matter which one. You always press the right one.”
Leo moved his hand in a half motion toward the control panel in Melody’s hands as if he were pushing the button. The black portal opened on the platform.
“It’ll be even easier once you get a tattoo,” Dana smiled.