Pročitajte prva dva poglavlja knjige A Million Worlds With You, autorke Claudie Grey (EN)
I can’t breathe. I can’t think. All I can do is hang on to this cable and stare down at the river at least four hundred feet below me. Nothing stands between me and death but a few nylon ropes, clutched in hands that are already slick with sweat.
Traveling to other dimensions can be scary—but I’ve never been thrown into anything as terrifying as this.
Panic clouds my thoughts and turns everything surreal. My brain refuses to accept that this is actually happening—even as the truth stretches my arms and pulls my muscles. Every pound of my body weight cramps my fingers and tells me how immediate my situation is. The city lights from the ground below seem so distant they might as well be stars. But still my mind cries, This is just a nightmare. You’re seeing things. This can’t be real—
But the Firebird locket hanging around my neck still radiates heat from my journey into another world. What I’m seeing—the mortal danger I’m in—is definitely real.
Then I realize that I’m dangling from a hovership, one projecting holographic advertisements upward into the dusky sky. My eyes finally focus on one detail from the metropolis beneath me long enough to recognize St. Paul’s Cathedral—and, beyond it, a futuristic skyscraper that has never existed in my version of London.
The Londonverse. I’m back in the Londonverse, the first alternate dimension I ever traveled to.
Apparently it’s also going to be the dimension I die in.
“Marguerite!” I turn my head to see my Aunt Susannah, who’s hanging out of one of the hovership’s passenger windows. Her dyed-blond hair whips around her face, blown by the same strong gusts that tear at my gray dress, exposing me to the world below. Not that I care who sees my butt while I’m on the verge of death. Aunt Susannah’s eyes are wide, and dark lines of mascara streak down her cheeks with tears. Other passengers crowd around her, pressing their faces to the hovership windows, eyes wide as they stare at the girl who’s about to die.
Okay, I think, trying to slow my breaths. All I have to do is climb back in. It’s not that far. Up four feet, over twenty?
But it’s not that easy. I don’t have the upper body strength to climb the rope on its own, and the nearest metal strut is out of reach. How did I even get here? This universe’s Marguerite must have tumbled from one of the hovership windows and grabbed a rope to save herself, which is why I’m now dangling hundreds of feet above the city of London. . . .
Panic seizes me again. Every inch between me and the river seems to elongate. Dizziness courses through me. My muscles go weak. And my grip on the ropes trembles, bringing me closer to death.
Oh, God, no no no. I have to pull this together. If I don’t save her, we’re both doomed.
Because if you’re in another dimension when your host dies, then, at the exact same instant, you die.
I could just get the hell out of this universe. My parents’ invention, the Firebird, gives me the ability to travel to a new dimension at any moment. Now seems like a really good time to check out some other reality—any other reality. But to use the Firebird, I’d have to hit the controls and leap out. Both of my hands are currently busy gripping this rope to keep me from plunging to my death. Kind of a catch-22 here. The hovership flies so far up that by the time I fell all the way down, my body would be traveling at a velocity that would make hitting the water as instantly fatal as smashing onto concrete.
“Marguerite!” another voice calls out. In astonishment I look over and see Paul.
What is he doing on this hovership? We didn’t even know each other in this universe!
I don’t care why he’s here. I only care that he is. My love for Paul Markov is one of the few constants in the multiverse. He would do anything, even risk his own life, if it meant he could keep me safe. If anyone can get me out of this, he can.
Normally I get myself out of my own perilous situations, but this, today? This is bad.
“Paul!” I shout back. “Please, help me!”
“They’re landing as fast as they can,” he calls to me. The wind ruffles his dark hair, and he edges out onto the metal frames for the hovership’s projectors with total assurance; he must go rock-climbing in this universe too, because the height doesn’t faze him. “Just hang on.”
Sure enough, I can hear the changing key of the engines. The propellers send new winds to buffet me.
London below comes slightly closer, though it’s still mostly a blur of lights and murky twilight colors—dark blues and grays and blacks. My adrenaline-flooded brain refuses to make sense of the shapes below me any longer; I might as well be staring down at artwork by Jackson Pollock with its squiggles and blots and spills.
I imagine a Pollock painting with a huge red splotch in the center. Blood red. Nothing else will remain of me if I let go of this cable.
My fingers hurt so much. My shoulders. My back. No matter how badly I want to hold on, I won’t be able to manage much longer. Within minutes, I will fall to my death.
Sweat beads along my face despite the chilly winds blowing around me. I can taste the salt as it trickles into my open, panting mouth. As I try to readjust my grip, people on the hovership scream. One of my black shoes slips from my foot and tumbles out of sight.
“Marguerite, no!” Aunt Susannah sounds like she’s been screaming. “You don’t have to do this, sweetheart. Don’t let go! We’ll make it right, whatever’s bothering you, I swear it. Just hold on!”
I want to shriek back, Does it look like I need any more encouragement to hold on? But then I realize what my aunt just said. You don’t have to do this.
She thinks I’m attempting suicide. And since I can’t figure out any other way this world’s Marguerite could’ve wound up in this situation, I think—I think Aunt Susannah is right.
But it wasn’t this world’s Marguerite who tried to kill herself. It was the other one. The wicked version of me who’s working on behalf of Triad, even now. She attacked me at home and escaped into this dimension, but only in this instant—as I gulp in desperate breaths and hang on with the last of my strength—do I realize what her plan really is.
She’s trying to kill me.
She’s trying to kill every me, in every world, everywhere.
I learned of my darker self a few days ago, when I first visited her dimension. But I only realized how dangerous she was when I tried to go home earlier today—only hours before I wound up dangling above London—and she followed me there.
By follow, I mean possess.
I had just leaped back into my own body after a mad chase to save Paul Markov, who is—
—what can I call him? Throughout the multiverse, our fates are entwined in ways both beautiful and tragic. We have seen worlds where we rejected each other, hurt each other, hated each other—and the knowledge of how terrible our romance could turn devastated us both.
But I’ve got bigger problems than my love life.
The moment I returned to my own dimension, I opened my eyes to see Theo standing above me. He looked haggard and pale—proof of the terrible damage done to him by the drug Nightthief, the one that made it possible for another dimension’s Theo to possess him and spy on us for months. Paul had endangered himself to find a cure and save our friend’s life.
“About time you got here,” Theo said with a wry smile.
“Good, you made it. How do you feel?”
“I’ve been better.” His faux-vintage Beatles T-shirt hung on his too-skinny frame. Dark circles shadowed his eyes. So his first question seemed natural. “But, hey, you got the juice, right? The data for the juice, I mean.” He meant the treatment for exposure to Nightthief.
“Right. You’ll be feeling better in no time.” I looked around for my parents, who needed to hear about Triad’s plans ASAP. We had believed only one other dimension was spying on us, trying to manipulate events, but I’d found out that the real threat was a third dimension, the powerful Home Office, which had plans so much darker than mere spying. “Where are Mom and Dad?”
“They were out when I got here. Probably at the university labs, trying to figure some other way out of this, or building another Firebird.”
I nodded absently. No point in calling them—my mom and dad, the illustrious scientists who created the most miraculous device in existence, rarely remembered to turn their cell phones on because that’s too much technology. But they weren’t the only ones I worried about. “Have you checked to see if Paul has come back yet?”
“You found him, huh?”
As I sat up, dizziness overtook me—nausea and vertigo both.
That was the sign. The warning. The moment I should’ve protected myself.
Instead, I only thought I’d moved too quickly. “Whoa. What was that?”
“You’ve been through a lot,” Theo said. In the moment I didn’t recognize the gleam of triumph in his eyes. “No wonder you’re tired.”
Still I felt strange. Uneasy. But I didn’t suspect what was coming.
“So, Paul was going to come back at the exact same time as you?” Theo asked.
“That’s what he said. Where did I leave my phone? I want to call him.”
“Don’t worry,” Theo began going through the constant mess of papers on the rainbow table; I thought he was looking for my tPhone. “Take it easy. You’ll find him, Meg.”
Only one person ever called me that. Theo—but not my Theo.
Only the spy from the Triadverse.
I turned to him in horror, realizing he would attack, but it was already too late. Theo and I scrabbled and fought until he pinned me on the wooden floor and injected me with a syringe filled with emerald-green liquid—Nightthief.
At first I thought he was a fool. Nightthief helps interdimensional travelers take over their hosts and retain full consciousness and control. But I was home in my own body. Was he trying to poison me? Nightthief took months to kill—
—I shuddered, and then I couldn’t move. Not my head, not my hand. Yet my lungs breathed without me, and my voice spoke someone else’s words: “About time.”
Theo smiled as he rose to let me up. “Always a pleasure to meet anyone from the Home Office.”
I would’ve screamed if I could. The three dimensions in which Triad existed were my own; the Triadverse, a world very close to my own but only a few years ahead in technology; and the Home Office, a futuristic hellscape where ruthlessness ruled and profit was God.
During my adventures in different dimensions, I’ve lived within many of my other selves and learned who I would be if history had unfolded just a bit differently. I could dwell in a Russian palace or under the sea.
Sometimes other versions of me made choices I didn’t understand; sometimes they dealt with depression and solitude. But none of them had horrified me more than my Home Office version.
She did Triad’s bidding. She wouldn’t hesitate to kill. She loved to cause pain, which she called her art.
And she had hijacked my body, leaving me powerless.
She seemed to be in charge, too, because Theo asked her, “So, what’s our first assignment?”
“Figure out what they’re up to.” She smiled. Feeling her smile, knowing that she enjoyed turning my body into a prison of flesh and bone—it revolted me more than anything else ever had. “My parents aren’t the kind of people to surrender even if it’s the smart thing to do, in any universe. But once the versions here have been outsmarted a few times, sabotaged a few times more . . . well, we might be able to bring them in line yet.”
Theo nodded and helped her to her feet. “And if we don’t get them to work for our cause?”
She laughed. “Then it’s time for this dimension to die.”
The Firebird only allows you to visit universes in which you exist, because your consciousness can only leap into another version of yourself. I prided myself on taking good care of the other Marguerites, on getting them out of any danger I got them into. But then I caused some problems I couldn’t solve. One version of Theo may never walk again because of me. Another Marguerite has been caught up in a multidimensional conspiracy she should never have had to be part of.
And a second me—one I inhabited for nearly a month, one in which I realized I was in love with Paul Markov and went to bed with him—is now expecting the baby I conceived for her.
So I’d come back to my own dimension humbled. Ashamed. Determined. There had to be more ethical ways of traveling through the worlds, ways that wouldn’t endanger or violate our other selves.
But I had no idea how profound the violation was until another Marguerite leaped into me.
“Look at this mess,” sneered the other Marguerite in my body, the one I’d already begun to think of as the Wicked Marguerite. She shoved a stack of papers covered with scribbled formulae, and they fluttered to the Turkish rug on the floor. As she glanced around the room through my eyes, at the books and the potted plants, the blackboard-paint wall with its chalk equations, and the rainbow table Josie and I hand-painted as children, she didn’t see home. Instead, my lips curled in contempt. “Primitive. Disorganized. They might as well live in a cave.”
“Yeah, well, you have to stick around in this cave for a while, so get used to it.” Theo kicked back in one of the chairs, resting his Chucks on the edge of the table. “What’s the game plan?”
“We pretend to belong here.” The Wicked Marguerite looked down at the bracelet on my wrist with distaste, then slid it off. “You’re good at that, I know. We don’t sabotage them right away—we wait, let them think the crisis is over, catch them off guard. But there’s one problem we have to take care of right away, and that’s Paul Markov.”
My terror deepened. Paul knew about most of this; I’d been able to tell him the most important parts back in the Cambridgeverse. But that knowledge had put his life in danger.
My parents had never imagined any of this when they invented the Firebird—a device that allows consciousness to travel through quantum realities, which are what non-
science-geniuses call “parallel dimensions.” They only wanted to study the countless ways history could unfold. Because everything that can happen does happen. Each time we make a choice, or luck comes into play, reality splits in two. This has been going on for infinity and always will.
science-geniuses call “parallel dimensions.” They only wanted to study the countless ways history could unfold. Because everything that can happen does happen. Each time we make a choice, or luck comes into play, reality splits in two. This has been going on for infinity and always will.
My mother, Dr. Sophia Kovalenka, became fascinated with the multiverse at the beginning of her career in physics. She didn’t only want to prove the existence of alternate realities; she wanted to see them for herself. Since traveling to parallel dimensions had previously been less scientific endeavor, more Star Trek episode, she very nearly got laughed out of her academic career. But a few people believed in her, including the English researcher Dr. Henry Caine, who became her collaborator in every way possible. (In other words, he’s my dad.) They’ve worked with other scientists and many grad students as well, including their two current doctoral candidates, Paul Markov and Theodore Beck, and after years of painstaking effort, finally created the device. The Firebirds may look like crazy-complicated steampunk lockets, but they’re the most powerful and miraculous scientific creations since the atomic bomb.
Unfortunately, like the bomb, the Firebirds turn out to have significant downsides.
As I said, you can only travel to worlds in which you exist. If there’s a world where you died as a child or your parents never met? You’ll never see it. Whatever situation your other self is in, you’re stuck with it. And you’re lucky the Firebird can remind you of your true identity, because otherwise you’ll sink into the corners of your host’s mind as that person takes over their body and life again.
Unless you’re a “perfect traveler”—someone with the ability to maintain memory and control no matter what universe you’re in. You can make only one in a dimension. Wyatt Conley made sure this dimension’s traveler would be me.
“Let me take the lead, Theo,” the Wicked Marguerite said as she checked herself out in a mirror, scowling at my messy hair. “You’ve been detected before, so they’ll suspect you first. But me? Nobody would imagine a ‘perfect traveler’ could be conquered so easily. Shows how much they know.”
“Feel free to take charge. But I should warn you . . .” Theo paused. “It’s harder than you think. Separating them from your own versions. Emotions get, uh, confused.”
“Maybe yours do. That’s not one of my problems.” Wicked began braiding back my hair. She pulled tighter than I would, enough that my scalp hurt. But the hairstyle wasn’t so dramatically different that it would tip anyone off. “I admit, I wasn’t sure about the Nightthief. Whether it would work this well. Nobody’s tried to leap into a perfect traveler before.”
“You’ll probably need a hell of a lot more than I do.” Theo sounded maddeningly calm about the damage they were doing to Theo’s body and mine. “Keep it close by. Use it the instant you feel the first flicker of—you know.”
Wicked wasn’t her dimension’s perfect traveler. That had been my older sister, Josie. In my visit to the Home Office, I’d seen how much Josie adored journeying between alternate universes; the work was an ideal fit for my sister, who was both a science geek and an adrenaline junkie.
But visiting parallel dimensions is dangerous even for a perfect traveler. The rest of us had all been at serious risk during our trips, and Josie had died.
Not only died. Splintered.
Splintering is what happens when a traveler’s consciousness rips into two or four or a thousand pieces. Fortunately it’s very, very difficult to do accidentally. But in the past few days I had learned two ways a person’s soul could be torn into fragments. One was what had happened to Josie: her host had been seriously injured, and she’d tried to leap out in the last seconds before death—because if your host dies while you’re inside them, you die too. The Home Office’s Josie had nearly made it, but not quite. Instead, as she leaped, she splintered into countless parts, through dozens of dimensions, each so tiny and ephemeral that there was no putting her back together again.
This drove the Home Office versions of my parents to madness. And God only knows what it did to Wicked, because she’d been twisted into something I could never imagine being.
Yet this evil, too, had to be an essential part of me . . .
“You know where you need to go after we settle the situation here, right?” Theo said as I helplessly watched Wicked finish with my hair. “You’ve got the calculations?”
She rolled my eyes. “I don’t need calculations if they’re in my Firebird, and they are.”
“I want to double-check,” Theo insisted. The Triadverse version of him had learned to be more cautious. As he began taking notes, working through whatever unfathomable physics governed this, he said, “If you want to talk to Conley, seize the moment, before Sophia and Henry get back. Nothing will tip them off faster than evidence you’ve spoken with him.”
Wicked frowned. “Which Conley?”
“This world’s. But he’s on board with everything.”
Wyatt Conley: tech genius, business mogul, and Amer-ica’s most powerful geek. I’ve seen him on newsfeeds wearing jeans and a blazer over an Iron Man T-shirt, his rumpled, boyish look as manufactured as his tPhones that took over the cellular market a few years back. Not yet thirty, people say, and he’s accomplished so much. If they knew what Conley’s really done, they wouldn’t smile when they said it.
“So, where’s her phone?” Wicked asked. Theo took it from his back pocket, where he’d apparently hidden it from me just in case, punched in the number, and tossed it to her. I felt its screen hard against my hand and wanted to cry. To need to speak so badly but to be unable to say a word . . .
“You’re here,” Conley said in my ear, as I hoped my hatred of this man would at least make Wicked Marguerite nauseated. I’d gladly puke if it meant she had to do it too. “Glad you made it. Obviously we need to get rolling. My thought is, start with Josie.”
“Always Josie,” Wicked said sourly.
Conley went on as if he hadn’t heard her. “Tell Dr. Kovalenka and Dr. Caine that much about your home universe, nothing more. They’ll respond to hearing that their older daughter died in a world not so far away. That news will make them . . . sentimental. Once we have their sympathy, we can manage the rest.”
“I doubt it’s going to be that simple.” Wicked walked through the house, familiarizing herself with the layout.
“Trust me, once Mom and Dad go after something? They make it happen. And right now, the Mom and Dad of this dimension are going after us.”
“But they don’t have access to our tech, and they don’t know the game plan. We’re a few steps ahead, Marguerite, and we’re going to keep it that way.”
It shouldn’t have jarred me so badly, hearing Conley call her by the name we shared. Yet it did. I didn’t belong to myself anymore.
She said, “Why doesn’t the other you just get started already? He’s a perfect traveler, so he can destroy dimensions and still get out alive.”
Only by destroying the dimensions containing each and every shard of Josie’s soul can the other versions of my parents get her back. They will kill her a thousand times over, unmake trillions of lives so that people were never even born, just to have Josie alive in their own world again. This is the cruelest, most selfish thing I’ve ever imagined—and yet, Wicked is right. Mom and Dad know how to accomplish the impossible.
“It’s risky, okay?” Conley snapped. Obviously he didn’t like the idea of any other version of himself being in danger. Too bad I wasn’t able to tell him that the Home Office had targeted our universe for destruction too, if my parents didn’t take their bait. “Besides, you know as well as I do that I’m not located anywhere near Doctors Kovalenka and Caine in some of the critical universes. So you’re more effective than I am even in the best-case scenario. And obviously we’d need you to slam the doors, if it comes to that.”
Slamming doors? That made no sense to me. But I mentally filed it away, willing myself to recall every detail. Possibly Wicked didn’t realize I remained aware within her, unlike most people dosed with Nightthief, who were basically unconscious within their own minds. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been speaking so freely.
Unless . . . slamming doors . . .
My train of thought derailed when I heard the sound of my parents’ car pulling into the driveway. Wicked said, “Mumsy and Daddums are about to walk in. Let’s wrap this up. What we need you to do is stop Markov. He’s back, and he’s probably headed this way.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Conley replied, so easily it gave me chills. He wouldn’t hesitate to have Paul killed, and he had the money to pay off guys who would do it in an instant. “Besides, the guy’s been splintered. He’s never going to be the same. We can use that.”
Never be the same? Paul? I had just raced through the dimensions to collect all four splinters of Paul’s soul—to put him back together again. When I’d finally managed to do it, however, Paul had been depressed, angry, even fatalistic. I’d already sensed that some of the darkness from the other Pauls had seeped into him, but I’d told myself it was terrible but temporary, like the pain from a broken bone.
Had Paul instead been changed forever?
“Gotta go.” Wicked hung up the phone just in time to run to the front door, where Mom and Dad stood. They looked like themselves again—in their shabby sweaters, Mom with her messy bun and Dad with his rectangle-framed glasses. When their faces lit up with smiles, I wanted to scream. Please, no. It’s not me. You have to know it’s not me!
“Sweetheart, you’re home.” Mom enveloped Wicked in a hug. Unfortunately the thick cardigan I had on kept her from feeling the second Firebird locket dangling beneath the fabric. “Thank God.”
“And Paul?” Dad said, blue eyes wide with concern. “Paul’s all right, isn’t he?”
That took Wicked aback. Her head jerked slightly, like people do when they’re startled. In the Home Office, Paul Markov was my family’s enemy—a courageous rebel trying to stand up to the Triad Corporation’s evil. She had to know that wasn’t always the case, but still, she hadn’t been ready to see proof of how much my parents love him, nearly as if he were the son they never had.
Unfortunately, she covered well. “He’s back, and in one piece—his soul, I mean—but he’s not himself.”
Mom and Dad exchanged a look. “What do you mean?” my father asked. “Did the splintering affect him badly?”
See, that’s the second way a soul can be splintered: someone can do it on purpose, if that someone were a total bastard like Wyatt Conley. What happened to Paul wasn’t a terrible accident—it was an attack. Conley tore Paul’s soul into four pieces and held each part hostage, forcing me to do his dirty work if I wanted any chance to put Paul together again.
“The fragments of Paul’s soul went to some dark places,” Wicked said, voice tremulous. “Worlds where we both saw another side of him. A dangerous side. And I hate to say this, but I think the splintering has changed him. Maybe forever. Like the terrible things all those other Pauls did stained his soul.”
“Oh, no.” Mom’s hand went to her lips. “We’d realized splintering was dangerous, but—surely the damage isn’t permanent.”
Wicked shook my head in dismay. “I don’t know. Mom, Paul . . . he scared me a little.”
How could she say that? She was the scary one. Paul was only injured, and lost. Overcome by despair. Fate brought me and Paul together time and time again—but we had learned that we didn’t always wind up with each other, that sometimes we hurt each other terribly. Our destiny had abandoned us, and Paul took it even harder than I did. Maybe he would have anyway, even without the damage from the splintering—but with it, Paul seemed to have lost all hope.
Wicked was turning Paul’s anguish into her weapon. My parents, even loving him as they did, would be suspicious of him immediately.
“Heya,” Theo called from the great room. “How did you make out on Firebird construction?”
“Better than you’d think,” my father began, but then his voice trailed off as a taxi pulled up in front of our house. At first I couldn’t imagine who would drive up in a cab, but then the door swung open and Paul stepped out.
He’s here, I thought. He made it! Paul got here before Conley could even start to look for him.
That gave us a chance, unless Wicked had already screwed him over for good.
She opened the door and ran into the yard, eager to greet him. It’s what I would’ve done—but I would’ve leaped into his arms, told Paul I loved him, and began trying to talk him back from the terrible despair that had taken him over. Wicked, on the other hand, went right up to him and then stopped short, as if taken aback.
“Hey.” Wicked smiled sweetly, or tried to. It didn’t feel quite right. “Are you okay?”
“I feel fine,” Paul said, stoic as ever. “How I am isn’t important right now.” Then he walked straight past her, shoulders squared. This coolness would’ve wounded me at any other moment. Now it gave me hope.
Already Paul had raised his voice to speak to my parents in the doorway. “Sophia, Henry, how much has Marguerite told you?”
My muscles tensed with Wicked’s fear. She hadn’t realized that I’d been able to explain everything to Paul before the end. Probably she thought I’d pieced his soul back together and come straight home. Her impatience was my one opportunity.
But if she could stall long enough to get Theo in on it, they had a chance to discredit Paul. To hurt him, even kill him, and make it seem like self-defense. By that point I knew there was nothing they wouldn’t do. She followed Paul inside, my heart thumping fast with her determination to take him down.
“She got us started, Paul.” Mom’s tone was tactful. “Come in. Sit down. We’ll take this step by step. All right? And how are you feeling?”
“Strange.” Paul shook his head. “Like . . . I have to choose who to be. Every moment.” My parents gave each other worried looks as Paul stepped inside—and then he stopped. Slowly he turned his head and looked back at me.
Has he guessed? How could he have guessed? But if anyone knew me, truly knew me inside and out, it had to be Paul.
He stared into my eyes, searching for something I couldn’t name. Wicked smiled back at him as she folded her hands around his arm. “Welcome home,” she whispered.
Please, I thought. Don’t be fooled. Look inside my eyes and see the difference. It’s our only chance.
Please, Paul. Know me.
And he did. He did.
“Marguerite . . .” Paul’s voice trailed off. “Are you—”
“I’m fine,” she whispered. “You didn’t hurt me.”
My parents tensed at the idea that Paul had caused me pain, which was just what she wanted. But it was also the moment Wicked tipped her hand, because Paul knew there was no reason for me to say anything like that.
Paul slipped his arm out of her grip, then grabbed my wrists so tightly they hurt. Wicked gasped in shock.
My dad took a step forward, hand outstretched, ready to act. “Paul, what are you doing?”
“I don’t know how this is possible.” Paul looked down into my eyes and saw through her straight to me.
“But this is not our Marguerite.”