September 25, 2005
Daniel Thundyil leaned forward, drumming his heels against the side of a seat that was still just a little too high for him.
“So Dad, you realize when I said I’d be okay with moving again, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
Robin looked up from the control array to offer his son a thin smile. “I know, and I’m sorry to throw you into this on such short notice, but I had no choice.”
“You say that a lot.” Daniel frowned, then pulled his knees up to his chest to rest his chin on them, his feet still tapping absently on the edge of the seat. He hadn’t stopped fidgeting since they left the space center. The silence bothered him.
“Once you’re finished sulking, I think you’ll find this trip to be quite the adventure,” Robin said brightly.
“Right.” A surprise trip with a dad like Robin was always an adventure. It wasn’t the adventure part that bothered Daniel. He didn’t mind changing schools, and languages, and identities every time his father needed to track down a dangerous psychopath. What he did mind was being left out of the loop.
“It’s not every day you get to cross into a parallel dimension,” Robin said. “Aren’t you at least a little excited?”
Robin sank back in his seat, heaving a sigh that got lost in the muffling hum of the pod’s engines. Just a year ago, he would have been able to put a smile back on that face with a joke, or a song, or some half-made-up story about the constellations shifting all around them, but Daniel was getting to that dreaded age where kids are impossible to talk to. It baffled Robin sometimes how quickly his son had grown up. It didn’t seem all that long ago that he had been the moody adolescent with too much energy and not enough direction. But time raced faster when you had a job like Robin’s, when every day might be your last. This custom-made vessel might have allowed them to leap across space and dimensions, but Robin and his growing son remained as firmly bound to time as any of their ancestors.
“What’s it like, you think?” Daniel said finally, turning his eyes to the starry infinity outside. “This other planet—dimension—thing.” He still didn’t seem to believe the idea even as he said it. Robin hardly believed it himself.
“Not unlike home, I would imagine,” Robin replied.
“What makes you say that?” Daniel twisted around in his seat to raise an eyebrow at his father. “Your engineer told me everything was all backwards and upside-down there. He said the people there weren’t, you know, like us.”
“They’re human,” Robin said, “and so are we. What else is there to know?”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”
“There will be cultural differences from what we’re used to. We won’t know exactly what those are until we get there, but we’ll figure it out. Don’t worry.”
“I never said I was worried. That’s you.”
“True.” Robin didn’t know what to do but laugh, because Daniel had no idea how true it was. “You got me.”
“But just because I’m not worried doesn’t mean I get why we’re doing this. I’m still waiting for you to explain.”
“I’ve told you,” Robin said. “There is something I need to find, urgently, before it falls into the wrong hands.”
“Yeah, I know. You’ve said that like five times, but what? What is this thing you need to find so bad?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Is that even true?” Daniel turned a skeptical frown on his father. “Or do you just not want to tell me?”
“I have some theories—”
“That you can’t tell me, right?”
Robin gave his son an apologetic smile.
“If we’re leaving our planet on a theory, it must be for something serious.” Daniel leaned forward, squinting in thought. “So, this killer you won’t tell me anything about must be bad news, huh?”
“I know, I know,” Daniel scowled, slumping down in his seat to put his feet against the glass. “The less I know, the safer I am.”
For a few moments Daniel sat crunched down in his seat, tapping an irritated rhythm on the wall with the soles of his shoes.
“I’m thirteen, Dad. Would it kill you to have me in the loop every once in a while?”
Robin didn’t answer.
“Come on,” Daniel begged, even though he knew it was pointless. “Could you at least give me a name?”
“Killer 31, code name—”
“Code name: Mohan, I know,” Daniel cut him off. “Everyone’s really impressed with the cute little nicknames you give your enemies. I meant his real name.”
Robin shook his head. “You wouldn’t know him.”
“Him?” Daniel repeated. “Okay, so it’s a guy. Is he from our city?”
“Let me rephrase,” Robin said calmly. “You don’t want to know him.”
“Yes, I do!” Daniel insisted. “If I’m going to take over for you some day—”
“You’re going to have to hold that thought,” Robin said, drumming the final measures of code into the control panel.
Daniel had just opened his mouth to protest when a violent shudder ran through the pod and the air around them thrummed with some unseen force.
“Whoa!” Daniel grabbed the arm of his seat in alarm. “What’s going on?”
“We’re about to cross over,” Robin said, his eyes fixed ahead.
“What—” Daniel began, but the rest of his words morphed into an unintelligible gargle as the walls of the pod warped and stretched before him. A plunging sensation in the pit of his stomach caused him to double over and realize that he had only one knee and upward of a hundred knuckles. He opened his mouth to scream only to find that his lungs had collapsed into his spleen. His body was breaking, crumbling into a billion bright white grains of sand.
“Dad!” he cried out, but his voice had turned to sand as well. The glass dome of the pod shattered to mix with the disintegrating stars, the swirl of whiteness swallowed him, and the world disappeared.
For some time—it could have been a few seconds or a few weeks for all they knew—neither father nor son heard or felt a thing. Then, all at once, both slid off the edge of limbo and back into their bodies.
Daniel let out an undignified yelp as reality deposited him back into his seat beside his father. Unable to work his limbs, he collapsed into a trembling lump of jelly, his breath coming in short, shaking gasps.
Robin closed his eyes and took a single breath to calm his own hammering heart before turning to put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “Alright there, young man?” he asked mildly. “All of you make it through?”
Daniel could only gibber a stream of breathless nonsense, his eyes still fixed sightlessly on the pod glass opposite him.
“Let’s see…” Robin patted Daniel’s knee. “Your legs are here. Hands…” He gently uncurled one of his son’s clenched fists. “Here. Face…” He took Daniel’s chin to look into those eyes that so resembled his own. “Here.”
When Daniel’s gaze locked with his father’s, he blinked back into consciousness.
“O-okay, okay!” Daniel stumbled into his voice as though lurching out of a dream. “I’m fine!” He swatted his father’s hand away. “I’m fine!”
“Attitude.” Robin smiled. “Here.”
“Oh—” Daniel gulped as he readjusted himself in his seat, still shaking. “Th-that was—”
“An adventure, no?”
“Sure,” Daniel let out an exasperated laugh. He didn’t think he would ever figure out how his father handled every crazy turn of their lives with such unwavering calm. It didn’t seem fair.
“S-so, that’s it?” Daniel asked, laying his spinning head back to stare out at a sea of stars indistinguishable from the one they had just left. “That’s really it? We just crossed dimensions?”
“If the readings here are correct, then yes,” Robin said. “We’re among the first—possibly the very first—to do so. Amazing, isn’t it? No one else in the universe has experienced the miracle of physics and technology we did just now.”
“Yeah, hooray,” Daniel said, putting a hand to his head to massage the dizziness out of it. “Who wouldn’t want to feel like they just got squeezed through a soda straw and blown into a million pieces? Seriously, if you’d told me we were going to have to—what?” he snapped when Robin started to laugh.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met another kid so used to the outlandish that he could find a way to be annoyed by inter-dimensional travel. You’d laugh at you too if you weren’t so busy being mad at me.” Before his son got the chance to retort, Robin pointed out the window. “Now, take a look at that.”
Turning, Daniel followed his father’s gaze and felt a gasp escape him. Even after a dozen trips into space, the sight of a planet up close was breathtaking.
“Is that it?” he asked softly.
“Yes.” Robin’s voice had also grown hushed with wonder. He leaned over Daniel to put a hand on the glass. “Isn’t it stunning? The most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”
Daniel made a thoughtful noise, cocking his head to get a better angle on the blue-green planet. “I was expecting it to be—I don’t know—purple or something, but it’s not. It looks just like home.”
“Doesn’t it?” Robin marveled, his eyes still fixed on the cloud-shrouded orb on the other side of the glass, the only planet in its little solar system capable of sustaining life. “Who would have thought that in between the fibers of our universe, there was a near carbon copy of home?”
As much as the sight filled Robin with wonder, it made him sad. He didn’t know why.
“What did you say its name was again?” Daniel asked.
“The few scientists who know of its existence refer to it as Duna Fune or Planet Adyn, but I’m told the natives of this dimension have a different name for it.”
“What do they call it?”