Zero Enlightenment

General Bob Williamson woke with an uneasy start. Decades of military training tickled the back of his neck; something was wrong.

“Thank god I don’t have to listen to your snoring anymore,” a man said. Bob whirled around in time to see the lamp next to his reading chair turn on. The stranger was a younger man compared to Bob’s 67 years. He looked a lot like Bob did, in his late 40s.

“Who are you? What do you want?” Bob asked as he slowly turned in the bed to face the familiar stranger. He slipped his right hand under his pillow to reach for his gun, but it wasn’t there.

“I don’t want to hurt you, and I don’t want to be hurt,” the younger man nodded at Bob’s desk against the far wall. Bob saw a faint gleam in the dim light and recognized his gun. “I want to talk to you about the Galaxy Shot project,” he said. Bob’s eyes went wide.

“How do you know about that?”

“I’m sure you learn all you could if someone rained death on your Earth from across the void,” the stranger said.

“Earth, the planet?” Bob was surprised, and not completely awake yet. “Did your planet get hit? Are you an…,” he dropped his voice to a whisper. “…alien?” The stranger laughed and shook his head.

“Do I look like an alien?” he asked while still laughing. “Easiest case ever,” he added under his breath. Bob shrugged.

“You look like a younger me. An alien would be able to disguise themselves using my memories.” Bob’s suggestion only made the stranger laugh harder. “What do you mean, ‘easiest case ever’?”

“You’re in charge of the project that attacked my, EARTH,” he stressed the word. “I was sent to your Earth to find out why you attacked us; it turns out you’re just idiots. Case closed.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Bob was confused, but he felt the need to defend the honor of everyone that worked on the project with him. “We’re not idiots.” After that, he realized the stranger said he came from Earth. “There’s another Earth past Jupiter?” he asked. This prompted even more laughter.

“Aliens don’t exist,” he said. “Jupiter doesn’t exist. The only thing out there is the void that separates alternate universes.”

“Of course Jupiter exists! We have pictures!”

“On most of the Earths I’ve been to there’s a genre of movies called ‘Heist films’. One of the most common tropes they use is feeding a false signal of whatever is being monitored to whoever is watching. You know, instead of showing an empty space, it shows that there’s something there.”

“So it’s all fake?” Bob laughed and shook his head. “I don’t believe it.”

“Not all of it. The sun, moon and stars are real. But there are no other planets. No aliens, just more humans.”

“So.. you’re me from an alternate universe then?” Bob asked. His younger self nodded.

“I’m your Zero,” he said as he stood from the chair. He walked closer to the bed and extended a hand to Bob. “You’re my Zero.” Bob shook his hand, then the younger man stepped back.

“So.. what happens now? I mean… an alternate universe is big. Does your president want to meet our president? What kind of knowledge are we going to exchange?” The younger him smiled and reached into his pocket.

“No chance. We wouldn’t learn anything from, and aside from that; you attacked us, remember?”

“It was an accident! We didn’t know you were there, you know that now.” The younger man nodded.

“It was an accident. It doesn’t mean we’re friends, it just means we aren’t going to conquer your Earth and kill all of you.” He pulled his hand out of his pocket; Bob saw him holding a pitch-black business card. “Bye now,” he said and threw the card at the ground. A black hole opened beneath him. He fell in and disappeared, then the hole closed. 

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