The hand painted sheet metal sign says “Schema”. I push open the faded white door and hear the ring of a bell. I step into the dimly lit doorway, hoping to escape the oppressive afternoon heat. A wave of cool air rushes upon me and I feel immediately relieved. Desperately in need of a drink I look towards the bar. I blink. I blink again. Something is off but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Maybe I’m just a bit tired, maybe it’s the heat. Everything will be fine once I get a drink and relax. I step up to the bar and not so much sit, as fall onto the emerald green stool. "Greetings, traveler!" the bartender says. "You're our first Earthling since, eh, that Jesus guy!" I laugh. Not like a great joke belly laugh but the kind of laugh you make when you didn’t quite understand what was said but knew that the speaker was trying to be humorous. “What can I get you?” He says. “We have a fine assortment of…” I stop listening to his words, his voice is… different. I can understand him fine, but the noise that comes out when he speaks isn’t talking. Maybe I’m not saying that right. When I talk I am expelling air past my vocal cords and producing sounds that I can attenuate and modify using my mouth, tongue and lips. That is not what is happening here. The noise that comes out of the bartender’s mouth is not that. It’s tinny, and flat. Maybe it sounds like a speaker from an old drive-in movie. You know, the old one that you would take off of a pole and hang on your car window. I can clearly see his mouth move as he goes through his list of potables. My senses suddenly sharpen, I begin to really focus on the bartender. Everything is wrong. Not like he has three heads wrong, just a little wrong, just slightly off. The way his face moves as he speaks, the way his face shows emotion, but not the right emotion. The way every single hair on his head and face seems to be locked into place. I realize that he, it, has stopped speaking. Now he, it, is just staring at me, or through me. I playback my arrival here through my head. I speak.
“You said first Earthling… uh… something. What did you mean by that?”
“It has been approximately 2000 years since the last Earthling visited this establishment sir.”
This time I actually laugh. The bartender cocks his head and looks at me, I would say quizzically, but again, the emotion is not quite right. It’s too weird. I stand up and begin to turn and make my way back towards the door. That is when I notice the other patrons. When I had stepped through the door into the dark interior my eyes had not immediately been able to discern that there were others here. I had heard conversations but could not make out who, or, as I now realized, what, was speaking. Now that my eyes were adjusted I could see quite clearly. The interior of the establishment was large. Much larger than the exterior gave a hint at. The bar was on the right inside the entrance, the left side was empty, save for an old style cigarette vending machine, the type with the pull knobs. Continuing past the bar and vending machine were diner style booths. Hundreds of them, as far back as I could see. Each booth was occupied. Not a single recognizable being, save the bartender, was seated at any booth. There were green skinned beings with 3 arms and translucent beings that seemed to have no appendages whatsoever. There were multi-tentacled beasts of every size. Remember the movie Men In Black? Remember when Will Smith’s character walks into the MIB HQ for the first time? It was a whole lot like that. I slowly started to back towards the door. I tripped over my own feet and promptly fell to the floor. At this point virtually every conversation stopped. I would say all eyes were upon me, but I am not sure that all these beings possessed the requisite eyes to make that statement true. The bartender made his way around the bar and offered me a hand. “Sir, are you okay?” he said. It was then that I noticed he had no legs. His torso continued down from his waist area and then abruptly ended. He was supported by a harness type assembly suspending him between two motorized wheels. I was not at all sure that I wanted to touch the proffered appendage and I slowly began to scoot backwards across the floor on my butt. The bartender speaks again “Sir, is there a problem?”
“Just get away from me… don’t touch me…” I managed to blurt out. I was scared. It wasn’t the same fear as, say, being mugged. I have been mugged, twice actually. Kind of an initiation into living in the city. This fear was not that fear. This was deep down in my gut, existential fear. I was in full flight mode. I’ve never been a fighter, I couldn’t fight my way out of a proverbial wet paper bag. Running away was my first and, really, only instinct. I had to get out of there. I finally managed to get my feet back under me and I stood up. I was still facing the bartending… thing? He, it, spoke again, “Sir, please calm down, you are agitating the other patrons. Come back to the bar and have a drink. We pour only the finest spirits available in the multi-verse. I am sure we have something to suit your tastes.”
I barely let him finish his sentence. I turn and break towards the door. I reach out to push the door open and immediately crash into it. It has a rather obvious sign stating “Pull to Open”, but in a fit of poor design there is a handle that clearly looks like it should be pushed. My mind is still shocked and reeling. I can’t decide now if I am angry for poor door design or scared of what I know lurks behind me. I grab the handle and pull. Nothing happens. Nothing. The door does not budge even the slightest bit. “Sir” The voice behind me says “You know you cannot access Class Beta or higher realms without swiping your access badge.” I pull the door again, harder. I put all of my strength into the gesture. Still nothing. I feel a pressure on my shoulder and see the bartender’s hand. He effortlessly turns me towards him, “Class Beta and higher realms require you to swipe your access badge.” He is gesturing to a grey plastic square with a small, blue, glowing light in the bottom right corner. It’s too much. I feel a tingling starting in my legs. A lightness in my head starts to dim my vision.
I scream and sit up. I’m in a bed, my bed? Was it a dream? No. No. it’s a bed, but it’s definitely not mine. I look around the room I am in, it’s very dark but I can make out the white walls and some assorted furniture, and a figure seated in front of me. I stammer, “hu…heeello…?” The lights snap on as the first sound escapes my mouth. The room is very ornately decorated. Straight out of some Victorian Era mansion. Rich dark wood, plush red velvet, and gold piping adorn virtually everything. There is a man sitting in the middle of the room. It would probably sound better or be more believable if I told you he was in a suit and had an official air about him. None of that is true though. He is wearing a tan bathrobe, a white V-neck t-shirt. Green plaid boxers and leather sandals. I know this guy, but I can’t place him. I know I have seen him before, my mind is running through all of my friends, and friends of friends, how do I know this man? It hits me. It’s The Dude. Uhh… 90’s movie character, The Big Sadowski, or Lebronski, or something like that. “Greetings sir, you had a bit of an accident out there. Rest assured though sir, you are fine now. All of our tests show that you have no lingering medical effects. We did find a small tumor developing in your pancreas. Much too small for your doctors to have seen. It has been taken care of and you have been inoculated against other cancerous diseases.” It all comes rushing back to me. The weird bar, the wheeled bartender, the things occupying the booths. All of it rushes back in and I am suddenly scared again. I try to jump up and bolt again but I can’t. “I wouldn’t try that sir, we had to place a temporary limiter on your high level motor functions to keep you safe. Continued efforts to run away will result in the loss of further functioning.” I try again and immediately fall limply back to the bed. I try to yell, maybe a yell for help, or just a yell of frustration. Either way, no sound escapes my lips. “Please sir, just relax. You are in absolutely no danger here. We have only taken these measures to prevent you from injuring yourself. As soon as we trust that you are able to control yourself in a rational manner we will release the limiter and you will be free to move as you please.” The Dude continued speaking. “It seems we have a bit of an issue. YOU are not supposed to be here. Now, I know that that is probably fairly obvious to you, but we have systems in place specifically to prevent unauthorized access. I am going to relax the limiter now and allow you to speak. I am going to ask you a few questions and then we can decide what course of action we need to take from there. Does that sound okay to you? You may speak now.”
“Yeah. I guess.” I managed to croak out. It’s not like I had a bunch of other options.
“Good.” Said The Dude.
Except it wasn’t really The Dude. It looked like him, to a tee, but his mannerisms and voice were not right. I was not familiar enough to know exactly what he should act or sound like, but I knew enough to know that this wasn’t it.
He continued, “Go ahead and sit up. There is a pitcher of water and a glass on the table directly to your left. I am going to trust that you can take a drink without attempting anything that will require further limiting.”
I sat up and looked at the man again. It wasn’t The Dude. Now it was Doc Brown. I was confused, I could feel the fear creeping back in. My face must have shown it.
The man spoke again. “I am attempting to present to you an image that will calm you. If this will not do, please let me know and I will attempt to adjust as necessary.”
“What is going on here? Where am i? Who are you?” I asked these questions in a very aggressive tone. I was confused and scared, but more than that, I was now getting angry. I was being held in an unfamiliar place, with a man that wasn’t and I was beginning to want, no, I was beginning to need answers. The anger was beginning to override the fear and confusion.
“Those are all very good questions and I promise that they will all be answered. First though, I would like to ask you a few questions.” Said the Doc Brown man.
“Why would I answer any of your questions?” I said. “I am being held against my will. I have no idea where I am, and I am fairly certain that I, moments ago, saw some things that were not of this Earth.”
“Those are all fair points, and I want to address them. I, or should I say we…” At this point he gestured around the room’s ceiling. I glanced up and around and noticed that the top of the room appeared to be some sort of hologram. I could not see anything beyond the representation of the room, but I could tell that it was just that, a representation, not an actual continuation of walls or a ceiling. I also, suddenly, felt that I was being watched. “…are most interested in how you came to be here. We would be happy to share as much information as you care to know. But first, we need to know how you came to be here. We, first and foremost, must ensure the security of Schema. That is why we have placed the limiter on you, though it pains us greatly to do so. We know that you do not belong here, and we know that you are not a hostile agent. We know these things and yet we are still perplexed. A human has not set foot in this place in more than 2000 years. Getting here is no easy task, and yet here you are. So, please, we just need to know how you got here. After that, we will answer anything you care to ask.”
“This doesn’t make any sense.” I replied, fear starting to bubble up again. “You know how I got here. I walked in the front door.”
“That can’t be sir.” The Doc Brown man said. “The “front door” as you so casually called it, is a dimensional gate. It is not even supposed to be visible unless you have an access card and even then, on this planet, it must be a Beta level card or higher.”
“Wait.” I interrupted. “I’ve heard that before. Beta level access card. What is that? I have no idea what that is or what you are talking about. Dimensional gates, access cards, you are not making any sense to me. I was walking down the street, I was thirsty, I looked across the street and saw the sign and the door and I walked in. That’s it. I didn’t wave a badge or a card or even see any sort of security gate. I was thirsty, I saw a pub, I walked in.”
“Again sir, that is just not possible.” The Doc Brown man said. It sounded like a bit of fear had crept into his voice. “We have security measures in place. They appear to still be in place. This area, this “pub” as you called it is a highly restricted dimensional nexus. If it is not secure this dimension as well as any dimension with a direct connection to this one, could be at risk of destruction.”
“Look, I cannot tell you anything else. Street, thirsty, pub. That is it. I don’t know what a dimensional nexus is. I don’t know anything about your security. I’m just a public paratransit supervisor. I have no Beta level access, I have nothing but a few bucks in my pocket and a bus pass to get back and forth to work.”
The Doc Brown man looked at me thoughtfully. He drew a breath and was about to speak when the door opened. A young man walked in and approached the Doc Brown man. As he drew near I began to notice the same things I first noticed on the bartender from earlier. A, not emotionless, but wrongly emotioned face, a tinny voice, this time speaking a language that I did not understand. The Doc Brown man’s face suddenly shifted. Something the younger man had said surprised the Doc Brown man. He glanced at me and spoke back to the younger man thing. The younger one quickly turned and exited the room. “Well sir. It appears that we have solved one mystery and opened up yet another. Can I ask, what is your birthdate?”
“July 10th, Nineteen Sixty-two.” I replied. “Why?”
“And, what was the location of your birth?” He asked.
“I was born in a tiny little town called Burns, Oregon. Again,” I asked, “Why?”
He smiled and laughed excitedly, as if I had just told him that he had won the lottery.
“You, sir, are the first of your kind. Quite frankly, I am surprised that you have not come across one of the gates earlier. On the day you were born, in Burns Oregon, a dimensional nexus was opened at exactly 1:00:09 AM, also in Burns, Oregon. This was a new nexus and it was intended to bridge this dimension with two other, theretofore, unconnected dimensions. As you may or may not know, an orbital nuclear device codenamed “Starfish Prime” was set off that night, at exactly that time. We were, surprisingly, unaware of this test and it created an unfortunate side effect. Fifty-Six pounds of biomass of unknown composition were ejected from one or the other of the two new dimensions and ended up, here, in this dimension, in Southeastern Oregon. We were able to abort the opening but not before this biomass had made its way into our dimension. We were able to track, what we thought was all of it. It was rounded up and studied and then destroyed. Apparently though we did not get all of it. At least enough made it’s way to where you were being born and managed to infect you. We do not believe it was enough to classify you as a different species, or even to set off warning alarms. Just enough of the biomass contaminated your newly born body to alter your perceptions and allow you to see dimensional gates and nexi. Again, we are quite surprised that you have not seen or entered one of these gates already. There are a dozen or so here on Earth and you had to have noticed them, and with your altered DNA profile access to any of these gates would have been as simple as you said. You could have walked up and opened any of those twelve doors at any time.”
I laughed. “That might be the craziest shit I have heard in my life, and I have family that watches Fox News. So, I am to believe that I am some extra dimensional oddity. That I can not only see things that no other human can, but that I also have unfettered access to these dimensional gates?”
“That is the precise and simple truth sir.” He replied.
“Okay.” I said. “If that’s all true, what am I supposed to do now?”