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´╗┐Title: So Many Worlds Away...
Author: Swain, Dwight V.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "So Many Worlds Away..." ***

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                        SO MANY WORLDS AWAY....

                          By Dwight V. Swain

               Horning's married life was unbearable so
             he sought peace in another dimension. But was
             his past somehow linked with other worlds?...

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
                               July 1952
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


It was nearly four o'clock in the windowless basement laboratory when
Horning screwed tight the last connection.

He straightened, shrugged the kinks from his back and shoulders, and
wiped his hands clean on a wad of waste. Crossing to the battered desk
in the corner, he pushed back Margaret's picture, got out pen and
paper, and wrote briefly:

    _Dear Myrtle_,

    _It's time we faced facts. I never should have married you after
    Margaret died. My work means everything to me; I can't give it up.
    But you detest the whole business of being a scientist's wife.
    Knowing how  you feel about the "shame" of divorce, I won't ask
    you to let me leave you legally. There's a better way out. By the
    time you read this, I'll either have breached and bridged the
    space-time continuum to another plane, or I'll be dead. In either
    case, you'll be happier with me gone. My patent royalties and
    insurance will take care of you as long as you live._

    _Good luck, and I'm sorry it didn't work out._

    _Raymond._

Horning weighted the letter down in the center of the desk. Then,
pushing back his chair, he picked up Margaret's picture.

She smiled up at him as always, so real the sight of her brought a
tightness to his throat. When he closed his eyes, he could almost hear
her voice, rippling with gay, gentle laughter. He felt her lips on
his ... her dark, silken hair against his cheek.

Only Margaret had lain in her grave for three years now....

Horning drew a quick, shallow breath. Sliding the photo from its frame,
he tucked it into the breast pocket of his shirt.

Back at the workbench, he heaved up the bulky transdimensional
registration unit, strapped it on and adjusted the scanning scope to
the proper angle against his chest. Dial by dial, circuit by circuit,
he checked the light-loop's control panel.

Everything was ready.

This was the moment he'd worked for ... the great gamble, the final
test. Not even Myrtle could stop him now.

Palm slick with sweat, he gripped the master switch and shoved it shut.

Purple light flared in the tubes set in the light-loop's door-like
metal frame. The blank wall behind it took on the familiar translucent
glow.

Horning opened the intensifier channels and increased the alpha and
gamma readings.

The light turned silver. The wall behind the framework disappeared.

       *       *       *       *       *

Horning stepped onto the ramp that led up to the frame. In the humming
stillness he could hear the sound of his own heartbeat, drumming faster
and faster. The sharp, chlorine-like smell of ozone filled the air.

For an instant, then, he hesitated, acutely conscious of an
uncontrollable trembling. Sweat drenched him; the sour stench of it cut
through the ozone.

He thought: _Maybe they're right. Maybe I'm crazy to think I can cross
the barrier between the worlds._

Upstairs, the front door slammed. The house echoed with the thud of
heavy footsteps.

Myrtle's footsteps--!

Horning sucked in one final, desperate breath and stepped through the
light-loop's frame.

It was so simple, really. Just like going out a doorway, into a
limitless expanse of shining silver plain. He felt no pain, no shock,
not even slight discomfort.

Swiftly, skillfully, he adjusted the transdimensional registration
unit's dials.

Light flickered on the scanning scope's screen, a shapeless blur.

Horning twisted the focussing knob. The blur resolved. A scene took
form.

Taut with excitement, Horning stared for the first time into another
world.

The place was an apartment, he decided. But what an apartment! It
shimmered like a modernist's sparkling dream. The decor was brilliant,
unique in style. Metal and plastic combined in sleek, functional forms.

Nor was this all. A man stood by a table, back to the screen, mixing a
drink. While Horning watched, he restoppered the bottle and stepped out
a door to the right.

Horning frowned. He had a strange feeling, somehow, that he'd seen the
man somewhere before.

Shrugging it off, he lined up the crosshairs on the screen with
infinite care and switched the projector drive to high.

Before his very eyes, the shining silver plain dissolved. The shadowy
walls of the room on the screen rose about him. Furnishings appeared in
misty outline.

Horning pressed the reintegrator button.

The walls lost their shadow. The furnishings took on solid form.

Horning came to rest with a heavy thud, sprawled in the center of the
floor.

Behind him, there was a stir of sudden movement; a choked exclamation.

Before he could turn or regain his feet, a man's tight voice clipped,
"Don't move--or you die!"

Horning froze. "There's no need to be frightened," he said quickly.
"I'm merely a--a traveler. I've come here from another plane--"

"I understand perfectly!" the voice snapped back. "I happen to be an
authority on such matters. That's why I say--if you move, you die!"

Horning's spine prickled. Just as he'd had the feeling he'd seen the
man on the screen before, now it came to him that the voice, too, was
strangely familiar.

       *       *       *       *       *

Behind him, shoes scraped the floor. Fingers probed warily at his
pockets, his belt, his armpits. Then they went away again and the voice
said, "All right. Now take off that outfit."

Wordless, wooden-fingered, Horning unstrapped the transdimensional
registration unit's harness.

"Get up!" the voice commanded.

Horning obeyed.

"Now sit down on that lounge in front of you, with your hands on the
arms."

Horning crossed to the divan and turned around. For the first time, he
faced his captor.

It was the same man Horning had seen on the screen. He stood poised,
cat-footed, back against the gleaming metaloid wall. An ugly,
snub-nosed pistol of strange design was in his hand.

And his face was Horning's face.

Horning went rigid--shocked, half unbelieving.

"Down!" rapped his counterpart.

Horning sank numbly to the seat.

"Who are you? Why did you come here?"

Some of the numbness left Horning. Cold anger came in its place. "Why
ask me?" he lashed back. "I thought you knew all the answers."

The man's knuckles whitened on the pistol. "I want the truth!"

Horning laughed. Of a sudden he felt bold and reckless. "I told you the
first time. I came from another world, a different plane--"

The gun moved in a flat, incisive gesture. "I know all that! The
parallel worlds, the Worlds of 'If'. Parmenides and his theory of the
Eternal Now. The idea that life's a book with an infinity of pages;
that every event automatically creates coexisting planes, one for each
possible outcome--" Horning's captor broke off. "But _why_? What drove
you to cross the barrier?"

Horning shrugged. "It was Myrtle--" he began wryly.

The other started; fell back a step. "_Myrtle--?_"

"My wife. I wanted to leave her."

"You mean--you breached the continuum for no better reason...?"

Horning laughed curtly. "For my part, I found it a very adequate
reason."

For a long moment the other stared at him. Then, abruptly, he, too,
laughed. The snub-nosed gun's muzzle lowered.

"You amaze me," his captor chuckled. He bowed. "Permit me to introduce
myself. I'm Doctor Raymond X. Horning."

"My coexisting counterpart on this plane--?"

"Of course. The alter ego is bound to serve as a focal point when you
cross the barrier." The man pocketed his gun and walked over to the
table. "Let me mix you a drink. After such an experience, you need a
pickup."

       *       *       *       *       *

Horning leaned back, studying the other obliquely and trying to fathom
the sudden change in his attitude.

Too, he still marveled at the similarity between them. They were so
alike they could pass as twins, he decided. Identical twins. The only
difference between them lay in details of expression--the sardonic
twist to the other's mouth; the chill, penetrating gleam in the
deep-set eyes.

His counterpart handed him a glass. "You amuse me, my friend. But I'm
afraid you don't realize the full implications of what you've done."

"Such as--?" Horning queried, sipping at the drink and finding it good.

"Such as the fact that interdimensional transit is not only a logical
impossibility, but a very practical menace."

Horning frowned. "Why?"

"Because it puts two identical personalities on one plane." The man
with Horning's face dropped into a chair and hunched forward. "Take our
own situation as an example. You're married to a shrew, a termagant.
You want to leave her."

"Yes."

"I, on the other hand, have a young and charming wife who holds a
considerable fortune in her own right. Consequently, it would be
ever so much to your advantage to switch places with me." Horning's
counterpart brought up one square-knit hand in an expressive gesture.
"What's to prevent your murdering me and moving in?"

Horning nodded slowly. "I see what you mean."

"I'm convinced it's actually happened a few times already," the other
asserted. "Though of course it's not generally known. Fortunately,
we've never worked out the principle on this plane." He paused to
drink, then set down his glass. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully, and
he nodded in the direction of the transdimensional registration unit.
"Just how does it work, Doctor? I've always wondered where my own
experiments went wrong."

For a moment Horning hesitated, then shrugged. "See for yourself."
Kneeling, he unsnapped the unit's back plate and exposed the circuits.
"The registration dials are set with my own world as zero. You pick
up others in the scanning scope as you go, within the limits of the
projector drive. After that, it's just a problem of reintegration."

Beside him, the man who was his coexisting self craned. "So that's it!
I never dreamed it could be so simple."

"I used a light-loop to help break through the barrier," Horning
explained, sketching out a hasty diagram. "It helps to increase the
power output--"

"Of course." The other was down on the floor now, probing into the
unit's workings. "I've developed all the component elements at one
time or another, but when it came to combining them properly, I always
managed to miss out."

       *       *       *       *       *

Horning rose and drained his glass. "Well, you know now," he observed.
"For my part, I'm ready to start work on some other project, now that
I've gotten to this world."

"I was afraid you'd say that," the other Doctor Raymond X. Horning
remarked. Straightening, he snapped shut the back panel of the
transdirectional registration unit. "But ... it's not easy."

"What do you mean?"

Horning's counterpart got up. "I mean you can't stay in this world.
You're going to have to leave again."

"To leave--!" Horning turned sharply.

"Yes." Beneath the blandness of the other's manner, a new note rang,
grim and unyielding. "As I pointed out, interdimensional transit's a
logical impossibility. There's no way of integrating two identical
personalities, two selves of the same man, into a highly organized
society such as this one."

"And for a reason like that you'd try to force me out--?" Horning took
an angry step forward.

But his counterpart jumped back, out of the way. His hand darted to his
pocket, whipping out the snub-nosed pistol.

Horning came to an abrupt halt.

The blandness was gone from the other's face now. The deep-set eyes
were cold, the sardonic lines set.

He said: "There's another reason, Doctor. I like my life; I like my
wife. And I'm afraid the temptation to relieve me of both might prove
too great for you."

"You're being absurd," Horning snapped. "Not to mention insulting."

"Am I?" His counterpart smiled thinly. "I doubt that, my friend. You
see, we're one, really. Though we live on separate planes, we both feel
the same drives, the same tensions, the same impulses."

"You're talking nonsense!"

"No nonsense, Doctor." The pistol in his counterpart's hand was very
steady. "Given the proper pressure, a strong enough motive, I know that
even I could kill. In your situation, I'd certainly feel justified in
murdering you. So I have no intention of giving you the chance to make
me your victim."

"So--?" snapped Horning.

"So, you're going to leave now," his coexisting self answered bluntly.
"You can be thankful I'll even let you go alive." He gestured with the
pistol. "Strap on your unit. And be assured I'd have no hesitancy about
shooting you if I have to."

Horning clenched his fists, caught up in a churning sea of fury. "So
help me--!"

The gun centered on his belly. "I'll give you till I count ten," his
counterpart clipped tightly.

Horning bit down hard. Pivoting, he hoisted the transdimensional
registration unit from the floor and strapped it into position.

"In case you have any foolish ideas of coming back, let me warn you
that I intend to set up a force barrier around this place," the man
with his face observed with grim malice. "If you try to breach it, I'll
kill you on sight."

Wordless, still seething, Horning switched the projector drive to
reverse.

The room grew shadowy about him. His counterpart faded.

Horning pressed the disintegrator button.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of a sudden, room and counterpart were gone. Once more Horning stood
alone in the vastness of the shining silver plain. His head throbbed
dully; he felt incredibly tired and drained.

For a moment he almost considered going back to his own world ... back
to Myrtle.

But nightmare memories of the empty, bitter life they'd led rose up
to steel him, all hatred, conflict, tension ... so different from the
happiness of the other days, the days with Margaret.

Margaret.... He touched her picture, still safe in his pocket.

There were other worlds--an infinity of them. Somewhere, sometime, he'd
find the one world he sought.

Again, he turned the transdimensional registration unit's dials.

Light flashed on the scanning scope's screen. Stiff-fingered, Horning
focussed.

Here the scene was one of bleak desolations, painted in a hundred
drab shades of grey. A murky sky pressed down on sullen hills, thick
underfoot with powdery, ash-dry dust. Seared shafts that might once
have been trees thrust up here and there like skeletal fingers. In the
foreground rose the crumbling corner of a ruined building, base buried
deep in rubble.

A man crouched there--ragged, bone-gaunt, grey as the shattered walls
at his back. He clutched a club in one claw-like hand, and the strain
of utter panic, despair, stood out in every taut, harsh-drawn line.

Before the man, hemming him in, ranged a dozen great, six-legged,
wolfish beasts of a fearsome genus Horning had never seen before.
Snarling, slavering, they crowded in closer and closer, huge fangs
bared.

With a chill of horror, Horning flipped the magnifier across the
scanning scope's screen.

The beleagured man's face leaped up at him, sharp and clear.

"No--!" Horning choked. "No!"

For the other's fear-blanched face was his face, too ... the face of
another coexisting self, doomed to live and die in this grey, desolate
world.

Even as Horning cried out, one of the great wolf-things sprang.

The man jerked back and lashed out with his club. The beast fell short,
battered down.

But in the same instant, another of the creatures lunged, from the
other side. Its hideous, slashing fangs closed on the man's club arm.

The impact bore the man to his knees. Before he could recover, a third
of the wolf-things was at his throat. Blood gushed, a sharp scarlet
accent in a world of grey.

Horning squeezed his eyes tight shut in a frenzied effort to shut out
the horror. Spasmodically, he spun the transdimensional registration
unit's dials.

Again there was a flicker of light. Hands still atremble, Horning
focussed on it.

A new world came alive before him.

       *       *       *       *       *

This time, the scene was laid in what appeared to be a cheap cafe. A
throng of loungers lined the bar set against the far wall. But their
shabby clothes were of a cut and material unknown to Horning. The
grimed, poorly-executed murals struck a note of jangling discord, as if
even the arts here were keyed to a different plane.

In the foreground, a man gone flabby with fat slumped on his arms at a
table, a bottle half full of greenish liquor before him.

A sudden commotion stirred at the far end of the room. The loungers
milled and drew back.

Four men in sack-like purple uniforms pushed through the crowd with
cold arrogance. Their features had an oriental cast, and they carried
drawn swords of strange design.

The first of the quartet came abreast the table in the foreground.
Stepping aside, he gestured contemptuously towards the man slumped
there.

The other three troopers swaggered up and jerked the man bodily from
his chair.

For the first time, Horning saw the sodden man's face.

Again, as in the other worlds, it was his own.

Now, the fat man shook his head blearily, as if trying to blink the
haze of drink from his eyes.

The leader of the four uniformed men slapped him savagely, first on one
side of the face and then the other.

Horning's coexisting self sagged to his knees.

The leader of the men in purple kicked him in the stomach.

Horning's counterpart vomited.

The men in purple laughed and threw their prisoner down at full length
on the floor with all their might. Then, catching him by the feet, they
dragged him bodily out of both drinking house and range of the scanning
scope's screen.

Shuddering, Horning stared off across the shining silver plain. Of a
sudden he had no heart for searching through other worlds; knew that he
would not have till time had dimmed the memory of this day.

It left him no choice but to go back to his own plane ... back to
Myrtle.

And if she'd found his note.... He shook his head in wry dismay.

But he had no other course left open. Carefully, he turned the
transdimensional registration unit's calibrated dials back to zero ...
manipulated the controls.

The light-loop's tubes blazed and pulsated on the scanner screen, so
bright they obscured everything beyond. The frame materialized before
him, rising like a shimmering, translucent gateway amid the empty
vastness of the silver plain.

       *       *       *       *       *

Heavy-footed, heavy-hearted, Horning stepped through it, back to the
basement laboratory that lay in his own world.

And there was Myrtle. Head thrust forward, one thick arm belligerently
akimbo, she stood by the desk, reading Horning's note.

Horning stopped short.

Myrtle's glance flicked to him. Her eyes, black and beady, drew to
fury-glinting, fat-rimmed slits.

Horning stumbled from the ramp, fumbling at the transit unit's harness.

But Myrtle was upon him in three walloping strides--clutching his
shirt-front, shoving her face close to his. An aura of cheap perfume,
stale face powder, clothes that could have done with more frequent
laundering, washed over Horning in unpleasant waves.

"You--!"

She spat the word with such venom that her face shook.

Horning tried to speak, but no words came.

"Leave me, will you--!"

"Myrtle--"

She struck him across the mouth.

Horning's head reeled. He tried to twist free.

But Myrtle's hand was still locked in his shirt-front. Savagely, she
jerked him back and hit him again.

Horning staggered. His shirt ripped. Margaret's portrait fluttered from
his pocket to the floor.

Myrtle went rigid. Eyes dilating, she stared at the fallen picture.

Horning tore loose her hand and scooped the photo from the floor.

Teeth bared, nostrils flaring, Myrtle closed in upon him. "So that's
it!" she cried shrilly.

"What--?"

"So you thought you'd go back to her, that's what! You figured you'd
find her in another world--"

A chill ran up and down Horning's spine. He tucked the picture back in
his pocket. "Myrtle, you don't know what you're saying--"

"Oh, don't I?" His wife laughed wildly. Grey hair fell across her
forehead in snarled disarray. "Maybe I know more than you think,
Doctor Raymond X. Horning! I've read those things you wrote--all that
craziness about the other worlds. But I didn't know _why_ you wanted to
go there till now."

Horning fumbled with the transdimensional registration unit's straps.
Unslinging the bulky case, he lowered it to the floor. He dared not
trust himself to speak.

But Myrtle closed in upon him, clawing at him. "Admit it!" she
shrieked. "Go ahead! Tell me to my face you'd rather have that--that
slut than me--"

Horning wheeled. His hands shook. "Myrtle, I've taken every word from
you that I intend to," he said tightly. "Get out of my laboratory! Now!
This instant!" Myrtle's nails raked at his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before he could recover from fending off the blow, she had snatched
Margaret's picture from his pocket.

"I'll show you!" she cried, shrill and strident. "I'll let you see what
I think of her, the dirty little tramp!"

She spat full in the face of the picture.

Horning hit her.

She lurched back two tottering steps, tripped, and sprawled on the
floor.

Horning strode to her, jerked Margaret's photo from her hand, and wiped
it clean.

He said: "I'm through. Whether you like it or not, I'm filing for
divorce tomorrow."

His wife dragged herself up to a sitting position, her face a mask of
hate and cunning.

"Go ahead," she goaded. "Go _right_ ahead, Doctor Raymond X. Horning."
Her voice rose, took on new and even more bitter overtones of malice.
"But ... just don't blame anyone but yourself for whatever happens to
your precious apparatus."

Heaving herself to her feet, she stomped out of the laboratory and off
up the basement stairs.

Fists clenched, Horning watched her go. Then, wearily, he crossed to
his ancient desk and dropped down in the chair.

As always, Myrtle had won. The first time he left the house she'd be
at work here--breaking down the door, smashing his equipment and his
dreams.

And as for Margaret.... He smoothed her picture. But the features
blurred and his eyes began to burn, till at last he pushed the
photograph back in his pocket and slumped forward on his arms.

How long he lay there he never knew. Later, sometimes, he thought
perhaps he'd slept.

Then, dimly, he became conscious of a sound ... a humming, persistent
vibrance that grew steadily louder. It dawned on him that he'd
forgotten to turn off the light-loop's master switch.

He got up and started towards the control panel.

In the same instant, he glimpsed a shadowy figure, framed in the
door-like scaffolding of tubes and metal that formed the gateway to the
shining silver plain that lay like a shimmering no-man's land between
the parallel worlds.

Horning came up short, staring.

The figure outlined in the light-loop grew sharper. A man lurched
through the frame, into the room. His face was Horning's face, and he
staggered under the weight of a transdimensional registration unit,
plus a great, bulging, cumbersome bundle slung across his shoulder.

Horning started forward.

His visitor said, "Hold it!" sharply and brought a snub-barreled,
too-familiar pistol into view.

Horning stopped in his tracks.

"You mean--it's you--?"

The man from beyond the barrier laughed and spilled the bulky bundle
off his shoulder, down onto the floor. "Of course, Doctor! I thought
I'd return your visit." He prodded the bundle with his toe. "I even
brought you a present."

"But ... I thought you said you'd never developed a successful transit
unit...."

"I hadn't, till you came along and showed me how. As I told you, I'd
worked out the components. Once I had a chance to look over your unit,
integrating them was no job at all."

"But why...?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The man with Horning's face laughed again. "That comes later, my
friend. After you've admired the present I brought you."

Horning eyed the bundle. Limp and bulky, it was nearly six feet long
and wrapped loosely in a covering of some greenish plastic.

"Go ahead. Look it over," his visitor invited, gesturing with the gun.
"It's all yours."

New uneasiness crept through Horning. Slowly, he came forward and,
kneeling, started to untie the cords that held the bundle closed.

"You're too slow," the man said. "Here. Let me do it."

He tugged at one corner of the covering. The plastic tore away.

Feminine hair came into view. A head lolled over, exposed.

Horning found himself staring down into a nightmarish, waxen face. A
thin breath bubbled the lips. He leaped back, choking.

"Myrtle--!"

"Correct," his counterpart chuckled. "Or perhaps I should say--_my_
Myrtle."

"_Your_ Myrtle--?" A convulsive tremor shook Horning. "But I
thought...."

"You thought I had a charming wife who held a fortune in her own name,"
the other retorted coolly. "The part about the fortune was true. As
for the rest"--he shrugged--"well, you can see that I, too, married a
wasp-tongued shrew named Myrtle--the coexisting counterpart of your own
trouble."

With an effort, Horning stilled his trembling. "Then why lie to me?" he
demanded in sudden, flaring anger. "What possible reason--"

"I was afraid to let you know. And ... I needed time to work out a
plan." The sardonic lines about his alter ego's mouth etched deeper.
"I've taken care of that detail now."

Horning drew back another step. "I don't think I care to hear about
it," he clipped tightly.

"Oh, but you must!" his counterpart retorted. "You see, you're vital
to it."

"I don't care for that, either."

The other's deep-set eyes glinted. "Not even if it would enable you to
get rid of your own wife in perfect safety?"

"No."

"It's a wonderful plan. So simple...."

Horning cut him off with a short, decisive gesture. "I don't want to
hear it."

The man with Horning's face took one fast step forward. His head seemed
to draw down between his shoulders. "And I say you're going to hear it,
whether you want to or not!" he snapped harshly. He swung the gun in a
threatening arc. "I don't intend to have gone through all of this for
nothing."

       *       *       *       *       *

Horning hooked his thumbs in his belt and met the other's cold eyes
with all the bravado he could muster. He said nothing.

"I merely propose that we switch wives," his counterpart clipped.

"Switch wives--!" Shock startled the words from Horning.

"Could anything be simpler? Here are two women, completely identical.
Both are stupid, both termagants in their own right. So, each falls
asleep tonight in her own world. In the morning, she wakes up in
another."

Horning twisted at his belt. Narrow-eyed, frowning, he stared at his
visitor. "But why--?"

The man's thin lips parted in a mirthless grin. "How would you feel
if, stupid and knowing nothing of transdimensional transit, you were
suddenly to awaken in a completely strange world? What would be your
chances of making a successful adjustment?"

"I ... I don't know...."

"Adjustment to environment is the key to integration of personality.
When anyone loses touch with his world, the background he knows as
reality, he can no longer adjust." Horning's counterpart paused. His
voice dropped a note. "Every plane has facilities to take care of such
unfortunates."

The skin along the back of Horning's neck prickled. "You mean ...
Myrtle would go mad?" he whispered hoarsely.

"That's what the psychiatrists would say, at least."

A new tremor shook Horning. Unsteadily, he made his way to the chair by
the desk and slumped into it.

His other self chuckled. "It's beautiful, isn't it? All you need to
do is call the authorities in the morning. They'll take Myrtle to the
nearest mental hospital for observation--and that's the last you'll
ever see of her."

Horning's collar was all at once too tight. His palms grew wet with icy
sweat.

His coexisting self leaned back against the light-loop's control
panel. The pistol hung loose at his side.

"We have an undetectable anesthetic in my world," he observed. "A few
drops of it on a handkerchief, pressed over your Myrtle's face tonight,
will make her sleep as soundly as my wife is sleeping over there." He
nodded to the still figure on the floor.

Horning scrubbed the sweat from his hands against his pant-legs.
Shivering, he ran his fingers through his hair.

"You'll be free to follow your research, wherever it leads you," his
counterpart murmured dreamily. "For me, I'll have my Myrtle's fortune
to console me." He laughed softly. "What could be simpler, or sweeter?"

Horning slumped deeper into the chair. He rubbed at his cheek; squeezed
his eyes tight shut and then opened them again. The skin across his
forehead seemed to draw tighter and tighter, like a band of steel,
till it was all he could do to keep from screaming aloud. He twisted,
shifted, slid down further.

His counterpart stretched. The dreamy look left the deep-set eyes.

"We're dawdling too long. It's time we got started." He straightened.
"Come on."

"No," said Horning.

The man from across the barrier between the parallel worlds half
turned, head tilted, brows suddenly knitting. "What--?"

"I said no," Horning answered through dry lips. "I'm not going to do
it."

       *       *       *       *       *

The other's lean face went blank, incredulous. He came a step towards
Horning. "Do you know what you're saying, man? Would you actually pass
up a chance like this to rid yourself of that harridan you married?"

Horning shifted in his seat. He dodged the other's eyes, not speaking.

"But why? Why won't you? You'll never have another chance like this."

"I don't know why," said Horning. "Or ... maybe I do...." His voice
trailed off.

The other took a stand directly before him--feet spread apart, face
cold and rocky. "Don't give me that! We're really one--remember? I know
how you feel. You want to do it!"

The fury in the man's voice struck an answering spark in Horning. He
came up from the chair. "I want to--but I'm not going to! Now get out!
And take her"--he gestured towards the other's unconscious wife--"with
you!"

His counterpart seemed to grow suddenly taller. "When I'm ready to go,
I'll tell you!"

"You'll go now!"

"No!"

Horning started forward.

The other whipped up his gun. "I've come too far to quit now," he
clipped tightly. "If you're too much of a fool or a coward to go
along, then that's your bad luck. I'll handle things a different way."
His lips twisted. "Back up against the wall!"

For the fraction of a second, Horning hesitated. But the gun in his
alter ego's hand stayed steady.

Horning backed away.

"Maybe this way is better, after all," his counterpart said. "Maybe I
should have planned it like this from the start."

New lines of strain slashed his lean, sardonic face. The deep-set eyes
took on a light almost of madness.

Then--lightning fast; without warning--he pivoted. The pistol in his
hand made flat, clicking sounds. There was no report, no muzzle flare.

Three times he fired--straight at the limp form of his bound, drugged
wife.

Dust leaped from the plastic wrapper as the slugs smashed home. The
woman's body jerked convulsively.

Horning gave a hoarse cry and leaped forward.

His counterpart jumped aside. He hit Horning hard on the back of the
neck with the pistol.

Horning slammed to the floor. The room rocked about him.

As from afar, he heard his alter ego's voice: "Get up!"

Horning dragged himself to his knees, choking and gasping. He caught
a blurred glimpse of the limp figure of the woman who had been his
counterpart's wife. A thin trickle of blood was seeping from her
mouth....

"Get up, I said!" the killer cried in a tight terrible voice.

He kicked Horning in the side.

Horning rolled away, pain stabbing through him. He scrambled to his
feet.

"Climb onto the desk!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Shaking, Horning clambered up, standing half-crouched with the top of
his head pressing the ceiling. A water pipe lay like a cold knife-blade
against the back of his neck.

His counterpart dragged a coil of insulated wire from the workbench and
threw it to Horning. "Here! Tie a noose!"

In aching silence, Horning looped and twisted the wire.

"You know what happens now, don't you?" The murderer from another world
leered up at him, rocking with laughter, and this time there was no
mistaking the madness in the deep-set eyes. "You're going to anchor
that wire to the water pipe, and put the noose around your scrawny
neck, and jump off the desk! After that"--he laughed again--"I'll take
your wife and go back to my own plane. When they find you here, with my
Myrtle and my gun, they'll say you murdered her and hanged yourself!"

"They wont believe it!" Horning blurted. He groped desperately.
"They--they'll know from the gun. There's no other like it on this
plane--"

"--So, they'll say it's a new development by the renowned scientist,
Doctor Raymond X. Horning--" Abruptly, the man who was Horning's
counterpart broke off. His mirth vanished, replaced by cold, gun-backed
menace. "You're stalling! Anchor that wire!"

A knot of black fear drew tight in Horning's midriff. Numbly, he
fumbled with wire and pipe.

"Anchor it!"

Horning sucked in air.

"Hurry up!"

Horning let the wire drop.

The coil hit the edge of the desk, hung for a moment, and then rolled
off onto the floor.

The other's eyes flicked down to it. He cursed and took one short step
forward, hand outstretched.

Horning dived off the desk, straight at him.

The man from beyond the barrier started back. He jerked up the gun.

His shot went wild. Horning landed on him with bone-crushing impact.
The gun skated off across the room. They crashed to the floor together,
rolling over and over till they hit the workbench. It rocked wildly.
Tools cascaded over them.

Twisting, Horning drove a blow at his counterpart's face.

The other writhed away. His elbow jabbed into Horning's throat.

Horning choked. Before he could recover, a knee found his belly. The
wind went out of him. His adversary broke free and scrambled away,
clawing for the gun.

Horning lunged after him. He caught a foot ... jerked and twisted with
all his might.

The killer sprawled, flat on his face. But his outstretched hand
clutched the pistol.

Horning snatched a Stillson wrench from the litter of tools fallen from
the workbench.

His counterpart rolled, whipping round the gun.

       *       *       *       *       *

Horning lashed out with the wrench, straight at the other's head. It
struck home with a sound like that of a dropped watermelon bursting on
a concrete sidewalk.

The killer went limp.

Horning sagged back, panting. After a moment, he saw that his
counterpart had stopped breathing.

Horning staggered to his feet. His stomach churned. He lurched to the
wastebasket beside the desk and vomited.

Then a dull, shuffling sound impinged upon him. Swaying, Horning came
erect and peered round behind him.

Myrtle stood in the doorway, eyes blacker and beadier than ever. Her
jaw was set, her greying hair loose and disheveled. She wore a frayed,
ancient kimona and dirty white mules.

Horning choked, "Myrtle, get back--!" and tried to move round between
her and the bodies. But she pushed past without speaking, straight to
his fallen counterpart, and bent as swiftly as her bulk would allow.
When she straightened, she held the murderer's pistol in her hand.

"Myrtle, be careful--!"

She shoved him back with a meaty hand, blocking him with her body, the
gun held behind her. He could not read her expression. When she spoke,
her voice was flat and without feeling, no longer strident: "I heard it
all, Raymond--all the conniving ... how you hate me ... that monster's
scheme to steal his wife's fortune...."

Horning shrugged, not bothering to answer. Squatting down, he began
gathering together the tools spilled from the workbench.

"Raymond...."

Horning glanced up, then stiffened.

Myrtle had brought round the pistol. She was pointing it at him.

In the same flat voice she said: "Put on that outfit, Raymond. That
transdimensional whatever-you-call-it."

Horning let the tools fall. "Are you out of your mind, woman? In this
shambles, with two corpses...." He choked, unable to go on.

Myrtle said: "Put it on." Her face was a mask, an enigma. Her voice
stayed low, completely devoid of emotion. "I'll kill you if you don't."

Horning stared into his wife's eyes. They were inscrutable, hard and
blank and black as twin balls of polished onyx.

Myrtle's lips parted. Her jowls quivered. She steadied the pistol.

Very slowly, very wearily, Horning rose. Wordless, he crossed to the
transdimensional registration unit and strapped it on.

"Go over in the corner," his wife ordered. "Stand with your face
against the wall."

Horning obeyed. He wondered whether Myrtle intended to shoot him in the
back.

Or maybe she'd just gone mad.

Whatever it was, he decided, he didn't much care.

       *       *       *       *       *

Metal scraped on metal. Something thudded on the floor. The hoarse
wheeze of Myrtle's breathing, the slap and shuffle of her mules,
sounded loud in the stillness.

After another moment, Myrtle said, "Turn around."

Horning pivoted, then stared.

His wife now wore the other transit unit, the one by means of which
Horning's counterpart had crossed the barrier between the parallel
worlds.

"All right, Raymond." She gestured to the light-loop's glowing,
door-like frame. "Go through."

"Go _through_--?"

"Yes. Ahead of me. I'll follow."

"No." Horning put flat finality into his voice. "You don't understand
what that frame is for, Myrtle--what lies on the other side--"

"Don't tell me what I don't understand!" For an instant the old
stridency rang in Myrtle's words. "I've read those things you
wrote--remember? Your notes, too. I know what I'm doing!" She thrust
the pistol forward. "Go on! Go through!"

Once again, Horning studied his wife's face, to no avail. He made a wry
mouth. Then, turning, he walked up the ramp, and stepped through the
light-loop's pulsating, tube-laden frame.

The silver plain stretched endlessly before him ... infinitely vast,
infinitely lonely.

Horning shivered a little and swung about.

A bulky figure loomed close at hand, framed in the light-loop's glow.
A moment later, Myrtle was beside him, staring across the shimmering
wastes wide-eyed. She cringed before the immensity and desolation of
it, knuckles white, face slack and waxy grey. Horning could almost
taste her fear.

He prodded her: "What now?"

She shook as with a chill, not answering. Then, peering down into the
scanner screen, she fumbled with the calibrated knobs that shifted the
scene from plane to plane.

Horning began, "If you'd only tell me what you want--"

"Shut up."

The seconds ticked into minutes. The minutes marched stolidly on. A
half hour dragged by. An hour. And still Myrtle spun the registration
dials.

Horning shifted, closed his eyes. A haze seemed to rise about him. He
was so tired he could hardly stand.

Myrtle said, "Raymond...."

Horning shook away the haze.

       *       *       *       *       *

His wife's expression was more unfathomable than ever. She stepped
closer, and now he saw that she was holding out the pistol,
butt-foremost, as if to hand it to him.

He reached up to take the weapon.

But instead of releasing it, she brushed his hand aside and brought the
gun-butt down sharply on the screen of Horning's scanning scope.

The scanner smashed to splinters.

Horning went rigid. But before he could move, his wife had jerked back
the gun, reversed it, and leveled it at him.

Horning cursed aloud.

For the first time, Myrtle smiled.

It reminded Horning of the grin on a bleaching skull.

She said: "Set your dials at 830-X-974."

For a moment Horning hesitated. But the gun was very steady. Seething,
he did as he was told.

"Now turn your projector drive to high."

Horning gripped the corner of his unit's bulky case. "Where are you
sending me? Why did you smash the scanner so I couldn't see?"

"We're both going. Turn it to high." Her eyes mocked him. The pistol
menaced.

Horning threw the switch.

"Now, reintegrate...."

A wave of utter helplessness, utter hopelessness, engulfed Horning. He
pressed the button.

A room materialized about him--a room almost the twin of his own
basement laboratory. There was the workbench, there the desk. A frame
close akin to that of the light-loop rose against one wall.

A man sprawled on his back near the control panel. His face was
Horning's face.

Horning bent over him and felt for some trace of pulse, then
straightened, to find Myrtle once more standing beside him.

"He's dead," Horning said.

She nodded. Her lips twitched. "Take off your unit."

"My unit--?"

"Yes," She gestured to the dead man. "Put it on him."

"What--?"

"I said, put it on him." All the flatness was back in Myrtle's voice.

In a numb, aching void of silence, Horning obeyed.

"Set the dials for 701-G-0060."

Horning's fingers went stiff. He looked up at his wife, hardly
believing his own ears. "You mean...?"

"I mean, I'm going to the world that murdering monster in our basement
came from!" Myrtle's breasts rose and fell in a sudden tempest of
emotion. She was breathing noisily, too fast. The greying hair fell
over her face, and her eyes were drawn to hot black pinpoints. "You
wanted to get rid of me, didn't you? You were ready to try anything
short of murder or sending me to the madhouse? So I'm leaving you here.
That other woman had a fortune. I'll have a better life in her place
than you ever gave me!"

"But this man here...."

"He died a natural death. That's all I care about. I'll be a widow--a
wealthy widow...."

       *       *       *       *       *

The words went on, but Horning hardly heard. He sagged back against the
workbench--shaken, unable to speak. It was as if, of a sudden, he were
seeing his wife through new eyes.

She crowded close to him and said, "One other thing...."

Her hand darted out. She snatched Margaret's picture from Horning's
pocket--ripping it to shreds, scuffing the fragments.

Horning made no effort to stop her.

"I hate her!" Myrtle cried. "That woman--that creature--she could be
dead a thousand years and I'd still hate her--!"

She broke off, shaking, and switched both transit units' projector
drives to high, then pressed the disintegrator buttons.

In the tick of a clock, both woman and corpse had vanished.

New weariness welled up in Horning ... weariness, and a sudden,
stabbing pang of pity. In the awful emptiness of losing Margaret, he'd
plunged down, all the way, till finally he'd been blinded and panicked
into marrying Myrtle. Then, climbing from the depths once more, he'd
come to hate her.

Now, that, too, was past. The hate was dead; the bitterness had fallen
from him. He knew the fault lay as much with him as her. They were
simply dog and cat, not suited.

He even found himself hoping she'd find happiness in the world to which
she'd fled.

It made him smile a little; and he knew it was good that he _could_
smile ... that he'd grown so much in depth and understanding.



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