Enduring Elegance

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I met Lina on what started out like any other Tuesday. I walked into my apartment after work, set my keys in the bowl on the counter, and glanced up to find someone who looked identical to me sitting casually on my couch. I stopped dead in my tracks, unsure if she was real or if I was having a very vivid hallucination.

"Hey, Evaline. Nice place," she offered, unconcerned with the existential crisis I was having.

"Who—how—" I couldn't get my words out.

"You can call me Lina. And yes, I'm you from a parallel universe. Don't ask about the mechanics of me being here, we don't have much time and it will take too long to explain."

"We don't have the tech to move between universes," I said slowly.

"You don't have the tech." She was patient, her voice calm and even like she was talking to a startled animal. "My world does. That's part of the problem, actually. The Conglomerate in my universe has bled everything dry and is mounting an operation to open access to other universes for extraction."

I blinked at her. The Conglomerate was a group of the most powerful political and economic movers and shakers in the world—in my world, at least. They were influential, sure, but I’d never gotten the sense that they were evil.

"What do you mean extraction?" I asked, setting aside my other questions for the moment.

"Resources. The planet is toast, the climate is shot, and there's no easy fix for any of it. They decided it would be easier to sidestep the consequences all together and just repeat the process on other worlds. Profits over people, the usual."

"Okay," I mumbled, trying to wrap my brain around what she was saying. "So then why are you here talking to me?"

"We need help. Without a way to hack their communications, we’re flying blind. Quantum cryptography isn’t my area of expertise, but it seems like it ended up being yours. Can you do it?"

I hummed under my breath. "If there was an easy way to break those codes it would have been done already."

"I didn't say it would be easy," she retorted with a wan smile. "But will you try anyway?"

I thought it over for a minute, but it wasn’t a hard decision. Faced with the choice of attempting the impossible or sitting idly by and letting a multiverse conquest unfold, there was really only one option.

"I'm in."

***

It was an elegant solution, when I finally thought of it. By injecting photons into the laser the Conglomerate used, I could influence the photons they used to send the keys to their encryptions. After a few tweaks, I was able to reliably read the information that was being sent without the receiver being able to tell.

“If you can get the photons into their laser, we’ll have total access to any keys that they send. From there, you can decode all of their communications.” I was talking to Lina over a comm link—easier than trying to arrange for her to get to my world in person.

“You’re sure?”

“I wouldn’t ask you to risk your life over something if I wasn’t absolutely certain.”

She exhaled roughly, and even though the comm link was audio-only I could picture the look of exhaustion on her face—the little wrinkle between her eyebrows, the downturn at the corner of her mouth.

“Things used to be so simple,” she muttered. “I miss the days where my biggest concern was what to have for breakfast, not trying to stop a multiverse genocide. It’ll take a miracle to pull this off.”

"Us having this conversation should technically be impossible," I said. "Maybe another miracle isn't so far out of reach."

We signed off and I slumped in my chair, praying that I was right.

***

I jolted awake to the sound of my comms screeching to life.

"Evaline? Evaline, are you there?"

It was three steps from my cot to the primary terminal screen, and I punched a few buttons to open the comm link.

"I'm here, Lina. What's up?"

"I did it." Her voice was breathless, but there was an undercurrent of fear that made the hair on my arms prickle with anxiety. "The injection locking is live."

"Lina, that's—"

"They're going to find me soon."

The celebratory words I'd been about to say died in my throat. "How?"

"I wasn't careful enough on the transport. The facial recognition picked me up, and I barely made it back. It won't be long before they track me, but I had to tell you."

"Lina..." I closed my eyes. I could picture her so clearly in my mind. The way her eyes would be nervously darting around the room, expecting the Conglomerate's hitmen to come bursting in at any second. The drum of her fingers against the table as she tried to contain her panic.

"Tell the others. I'll miss you guys. Be safe, Evaline, and look after everyone for me."

"I will," I said quietly, blinking back the tears that welled in my eyes. "Thank you for everything, Lina."

There was a long pause before she spoke again.

"I've gotta go. Maybe I'll see you in another universe."

"Maybe," I whispered, but the comm link had already been cut.

***

I held my breath as I initiated the decryption sequence. Two months without Lina had passed in a blur of mourning, and I’d stayed busy by throwing myself into monitoring the Conglomerate’s communications. 

The computer beeped as it fed out the decrypted message. Dates and coordinates for the Conglomerate’s next series of attacks unfurled on the screen, and I leaned back in my chair.

“It worked, Lina,” I whispered to myself. I pressed the button to transmit the information to the Resistance operatives who needed it.

“We did it, and now we’re going to bring them down.”

 

 

About the Author: 
AJ Hartson is a science fiction writer who enjoys envisioning worlds that exist beyond our current understanding of the universe.
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