Short Story by David Chandra Purnama (The Jakarta Post, May 29, 2017)
Massachusetts, 6 April 2022
Professor Tuti could still catch the sound of explosion in her head. Two months ago, somebody blew up her research facility and destroyed a good portion of it. She stood in the middle of the room. Her husband, Andi Romaz, the leading scientist at the facility, had gone missing. The police couldn’t find his remains after the incident. Tuti felt light-headed at the thought of losing her husband. She leaned against the wall for support; on her face was a mixture between grief and regret. Suddenly, she heard a muffled crash. Tuti scanned her surroundings, her eyes fixed at the big aquarium standing right across the room — so big it nearly touched the ceiling. There was nothing odd inside the aquarium. Tuti decided to lock up the facility and leave.
She had already started her car when the thought of a crash returned to her. She couldn’t shake the feeling that something was happening inside the facility and that it wasn’t particularly good. Finally, Tuti leapt out of the car and ran back inside the research facility. Her hands were shaking. The keys slipped out of her hand once. As soon as she managed to get through the door, however, Tuti couldn’t believe what she saw. Her husband was now floating inside the aquarium.
She immediately went about the facility looking for something to break the glass wall surrounding the aquarium and found a baseball bat lying on top of a stack of old newspapers. Then she pounded the baseball bat against the glass wall repeatedly, each strike harder than the one before it — until the glass broke and water came pouring out. Her husband’s body floated down and out and into her arms.
“Andi!” Tuti screamed as she held her husband. He was dressed in a spacesuit, his helmet partially broken. He gasped for air. Tuti snatched the helmet away from his head and gave him mouth-to-mouth. Andi vomited.
He was alive.
Andi scanned his surroundings and saw a newspaper page with his name on it. He had been missing for quite some time.
“Tuti, I did it,” he whispered. She knew what he meant. “But I was too greedy.”
“What did you see in the other world?” she asked.
He choked on his words and spat blood. It was then Tuti realized her husband didn’t have much time left. She panicked and said, “Let me take you to the hospital. Your organs are failing you.”
“I won’t survive the journey,” said Andi. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
“You knew what was at stake when we started this,” he insisted.
She searched in his eyes. She couldn’t and wouldn’t lie to him. She did know what was at stake, but now she wasn’t sure she was ready to accept the consequences of their shared experiment.
“The wormhole isn’t safe,” he stammered as he pulled a book out from under the suit he was wearing. The book was covered in a plastic sheet. “This is the formula,” he went on. “I’ve solved it all.” He coughed again. Tuti held the book in her hand. “You know what to do,” he said.
“How did you get this book?” she asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I had to find it because I wanted to see you again.” He touched her face slightly. “There’s one more thing.”
“What is it?”
“The wormhole leads to a giant room,” he took a deep breath. “And in that room there are countless doors. I accidentally opened a different door than the one I meant to go through and it led me to a strange world. A whole other planet filled with explosive gas. There was very little sunlight there and it was empty. Luckily, I managed to get back to the giant room. It was then I realized the room had rotating doors.”
“It’s the intersection of universes,” he said.
“The hypothesis is true,” she whispered, half amazed.
“Every time a wormhole is created, it will lead back to the intersection,” she said. “A shortcut?”
“A shortcut,” he confirmed weakly. “The intersection works on a very complex system. There are infinite levels of wormholes and it spins as many times as there are prime numbers in a series of equations.”
“Oh my God,” she gasped.
“You must continue the work, Tuti,” he said, now too weak to even lift his hand. “Discover new worlds. Explore the possibilities. Promise me.”
“I promise,” she said.
“You can finish the book now,” he said. Tuti tightened her embrace around him. Tears streamed down her face. “Please remember, no matter what happens….”
“I love you.”
Just like that, he was gone. She held him close to her for the last time and cried for a very long time. Her world was gone and in its place he had asked her to explore new worlds.
In the beginning, Tuti didn’t have the courage to face the dangerous consequences of finishing their experiment, but a promise was a promise, she thought, and she had to honor the work her husband had started for them. So she went on with the experiment. It took her three months to prepare for the arduous journey. Thanks to the book Andi left her — it was actually a journal he had kept of all the things he had encountered in the experiment — she knew exactly what to expect and how to navigate her way through the strange new world. She created a new and safer portal. The wormhole.
After she managed to create a portal, Tuti pushed a long stick through the wormhole and pulled it out a second later. The stick was cut in half, exactly at the mark where it had gone through the portal. She watched in horror and amazement. She consulted the journal again and again, poring through pages of instructions — ingredients to use, chemical items to mix and prepare. She hadn’t missed anything. It took several more tries before she managed to retrieve the stick whole.
The next object to be tried was a living mouse. In his journal, Andi advised her to tether the mouse and proceed to let it walk through the hole. After it had done so, she should pull it back out and see what happens. The first try returned only parts of its legs. The second returned only the head of the mouse.
Months went by without much to celebrate. Each mouse was maimed every time it went through the portal. She was about to give up when Tuti caught the last note Andi wrote to her inside the journal, urging her to keep trying. She held the book to her chest and had a good cry. She missed him. She didn’t know how to live in a world without him; yet he was never too far away. He was watching over her from wherever he was.
Then she fell asleep. When she woke up, a very thick and heavy book fell off the shelf and hit her feet. She cursed at the book, Faraday Cage 2.0, while massaging her feet. But something happened at the same moment. Through the corner of her eye, Tuti saw a mouse running back and forth, in and out of the portal.
She had done it.
That time Tuti realized there were a lot of her husband’s motivational words on the last pages.
It took her another month to prepare herself for what was to come. After the trial with the mouse was done, the next step was to send herself through the portal. She had to be sure the wormhole was safe enough for a human being to pass through. She did several more experiments using more animals. Once they all returned to her unharmed, she considered the best time to send herself through the portal.
One day, Tuti extended her arm and attempted to touch the portal slowly. Then she stopped right as her fingertips made contact with the border of the portal. Feeling it was safe enough for her to push through, Tuti let her arm be swallowed by the wormhole. It worked. She wasn’t in pain and her arm was unharmed.
She closed her eyes. This was it. Her time had come. She took the first step toward the portal, then another and another — until she found herself standing in a giant circular room. All around her there were endless doors stuck to the ceilings. Wait, she thought. The room did not have a ceiling. She was stunned at the sight of all those doors.
At first, the image of those endless doors excited her and then it scared her.
The room rotated. She turned to the portal that connected the giant room with the research facility. She couldn’t tell which was which. Tuti opened the journal. On one page it said, “The formula to go home.” She studied the doors to no avail. They all look identical. She panicked and began walking randomly from one door to the next. Her own footsteps frightened her somehow. Then she stopped in front of a door. She closed her eyes, opened the door and walked through it.
When she opened her eyes, she was back at the research facility. Her husband’s notes had led her to the right door. Thank God, she thought. Tuti immediately rushed to her computer and begin to write.
“The Intersection of Universes,” she typed on the title page of a book she had been working on for quite some time. “A promise to the man I love, Andi Romaz.”
She also left a note for her editor, Vera, to tell her she was going to another world for a very long time and that the book would be her legacy. Tuti expressed hope the book would help change the future of mankind. After she had finished writing the note and compiling her manuscript for publication, Tuti crossed the room and stood, once more, in front of the portal she had created. She took a very deep breath. Then she took a step forward.
“So long, Earth,” she whispered to no one. It was time to explore new worlds. A time to live. “So long….”
The writer works at a major bank in Jakarta and this story is part of a book he’s working on. He was among the first batch of participants of “The Novel”, a creative writing course held by The Jakarta Post Writing Center. For more info go to tjpcreativewriting.com