Rick Jefferds could barely keep his eyes open as he drove back home after a double shift at Steaks R Us. He had worked hard his whole life, yet never really made ends meet. The divorce made everything worse. He missed his daughters. And Molly.
Long ago, Rick and Molly were two quiet highschool kids who’d never felt seen, by anyone, until they found each other. By graduation, they had a child. Rick got a job, then a second one, and buried his dreams of college deep within.
There was love, and warmth, and joy, but they didn’t last. They gave way to fights over money, diapers, and ear infection meds; over who would go to college part time (Molly); over how they’d ruined each other’s lives. Rick was neither surprised nor sad–perhaps angry, but his anger was dull and cold like a butter knife–when, one day, he found a bag with his clothes outside their apartment and the lock changed. A man Molly had met in one of her classes soon moved in.
Tonight, a white sedan drove alongside Rick, then turned right and disappeared. Rick’s mind was blank with exhaustion, so he didn’t notice the car or the familiar man behind the wheel. He arrived home, downed two beers, and fell asleep in his clothes.
Dick Jefferds perked up at the thought of tonight’s dinner as he drove back home from work. He patted his protruding belly and smiled; his wife was a terrific cook.
Dick loved his engineering job at a corporate lab–well paid, secure, challenging. He and Molly had struggled, working through college in order to keep their growing family afloat, but now, years down the road and with their kids all grown up, he felt he was the luckiest man alive.
A white sedan drove on Dick’s right for a while. Just before the car turned right and vanished, Dick glanced at the driver and felt a pang of recognition. That’s weird, he thought, but brushed it off as a trick played by his tired brain, and quickly forgot all about it. The roast beef that Molly had made for dinner was delicious.
Ricky Jefferds felt good and a little high as he drove to a popular club downtown. Officially, he worked there as a bouncer; unofficially, he made sure people had what they needed for a really wild time.
Years ago, after Molly had kicked him out and separated him from his kids, Ricky followed Molly’s new guy and beat him up in an alley to within an inch of his life. In prison, Ricky learned that he was brighter and far more vicious than most inmates; the latter mildly surprised him. Upon release, Ricky made good use of his new connections, so these days he wanted for nothing.
At a red light, Ricky noticed a white sedan next to him, in the right lane. The driver looked familiar. What the hell? Ricky took a good look. What kind of bullshit is this? He could think of several people who would go to great lengths to get him into trouble. He didn’t know what was going on, but he would put a stop to it right away.
As the light turned green, Ricky let the white car pass and stayed close behind. They got to a part of the road with no dwellings on either side. Ricky merged behind the car, stepped on the gas, and rammed his truck into the car’s rear. The white sedan slid off the road and headed straight for a large oak. That’ll teach you to mess with me, asshole. Ricky drove off, grinning, and didn’t see the car vanish before it hit the tree.
Professor Richard Jefferds was lost in thought on his drive home. His work had long been his entire world and it weighed heavily on his mind.
Richard and his research group had built an apparatus to open gateways into parallel universes. Between round-the-clock stability tests and analyzing the weak tachyon signals that emanated from the portal, hinting at temporal misalignment, he and the team would sometimes sneak peeks into the lives of their doppelgangers. Richard was struck by how many of his had families. He’d never even come close, at least not since the accident with that girl Molly he’d dated in high school; she and her parents had taken care of it quickly and quietly. Richard sometimes thought he would have liked being a father, but the thought was faint and fleeting, like smoke, long gone before it could ever really touch his heart. That is, until he saw all the children who looked like him.
In recent weeks, the gateways had become unstable. They would emerge in various spots, without warning, even when the apparatus was off. Richard insisted that the instabilities were confined to the lab, but in truth he had no idea where these chasms would open or how to close them. And now he had mere days before the government reviewers would come to check on the project and decide whether to continue funding it.
As he drove home that night, Richard thought about the intense tachyon pulses that sometimes accompanied the erratic opening of the gateways. He didn’t notice a black pickup truck next to him at a red traffic light, or the driver’s eyes wide with incredulity. Or that the driver wore his face.
The man with Richard’s face rammed his truck into the rear end of Richard’s car. The whiplash knocked Richard unconscious and his car skidded off the road, out of control, and aimed straight for a tree. It vanished right before impact.
The next day, Richard’s team found that the gateways had stabilized.
“I think we should keep the baby.”
Molly wiped off her tears and looked up. “You sure? I want to, but I can’t do it alone.”
“I’m sure.” Richie smiled and kissed the top of her head. “It’ll be OK. I just know it.”