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 It was a day I would never forget because it did not start out at all the way I expected.

Of course, not all days start out the way you expect, but that was the day that I woke up in a different bed than the one I went to sleep in. Not only that, I woke up in a place I'd never been in. At first I was alone in this very sterile room. There was just a simple, metal framed hospital bed, without all the fixings, sitting in a room without any other furniture. The walls were off-white and exceedingly plain. The door was on the other side of the room. I didn't try to go through it at first. It was a while before I overcame the disorientation that came with this unexplained change of sleeping venue, and once I realized that I was, in fact, in a strange place, I realized I had been drugged, or maybe they would call it "medicated," but there was no doubt that my body was sluggish and my head felt full of cotton balls.

The door opened before I could get completely out of the bed, but I had started in that direction. A woman with straight blonde hair in a simple cut, wearing a lab coat over dark blue scrubs, walked into the room. She was carrying a clipboard, the old school kind, not any sort of electronic equipment, and was very unemotional when she spoke.

"Mr. Barry, I'm going to take you down to the imaging room now."

"Am I in the hospital?" I asked, looking back at the hospital bed that sat there without any of the usual equipment you see in an actual hospital room.

"No, you are not," she said plainly. "Come with me, please."

Well, I followed her because doing anything else was pretty much unavailable. She wasn't answering questions except with simple "yes" or "no" answers and that got old quickly. "Am I sick?" "No." "Are you a doctor?" "No." "Have I been abducted by aliens?" "No."

The hallway was as sterile as the room I'd been sleeping in, giving no clues to where I was or what kind of place this was. My curiosity, not to mention the cotton balls in my head, was stronger than my desire to attempt to run away from whatever this was. The woman wasn't threatening, I wasn't being tortured, and it didn't even feel like I was being held prisoner.

"Can I leave and go home?" I asked her when we reached a doorway at the other end of the hall and she stopped to produce keys from her lab coat pocket.

"Yes."

"Okay, how do I get to the exit?"

"This is the imaging room. Please stay close and directly behind me."

"Okay then."

The room was dark and she didn't turn on any lights. I wasn't sure if there were any, as the only thing I could see as we walked across this seemingly endless room was the back of the woman's lab coat.

Finally, she stopped. She pivoted slightly back towards me and put her hand on my upper arm.

"Please step through this doorway," she told me, stepped out of the way as she guided me through a doorway I could barely make out in the darkness. Only once I was through the doorway were lights turned on. They weren't very bright lights, more of a quiet amber glow, and at the far side of the room was a large window that was actually a one-way mirror. I walked towards it without any coaching and stopped as I looked through it at what appeared to be me, sitting at a table on the other side of the glass.

The blonde woman entered behind me after I stepped up to the glass and looked through it. She closed the door, which I clearly heard, and walked up to me.

"What the hell is going on?" I asked, finally having my irritation overcome my curiosity.

"This is the imaging room."

"Yeah, I got that, but who the hell is that?" I snapped at her, pointing at the person on the other side of the glass. "Do I have a twin brother? What the fuck is going on?"

"Mr. Barry, that is a version of you we extracted from an alternative timeline, or parallel universe if you prefer."

I started laughing. This had to be an elaborate joke or prank someone was pulling on me. My 50th birthday was coming up in a week, so this had to be something one of my friends set up because of that. She didn't laugh. The woman in the lab coat stood there, staring at me very seriously.

"Mr. Barry, this version of you was extracted from an alternative timeline where you married your former girlfriend Karen."

"Okay, what the hell is this? Who put you up to all this? Was it John? Terry? My cousin Louie?"

"Mr. Barry, we brought you here so you could interact with this version of yourself."

That was when I stopped laughing completely. I just stared at her, looking her in the eye and waiting for her to drop the act and reveal who was behind this prank. She did not crack. She didn't even smile, not even in that feigned way hotel maids and convenience store clerks do when you try to give them twenty dollars "walking around money" just for the heck of it.

The sound of a loudspeaker or intercom crackling distracted me from my staring down of lab coat blondie. Once I broke eye contact, she took a couple of steps back from me.

"Aren't you curious, Mr. Barry?" asked a man's voice over the intercom speaker overhead. "Wouldn't you like to talk to a version of yourself that was extracted from an alternative timeline of your life?"

Looking up at the ceiling, and around for where the speaker was, because for some reason when humans are talking to a voice on a speaker they like to see the speaker so they can address it directly. It is just one of those quirky human traits.

"No, because this is all bullshit and I want to know who put you people up to this nonsense!" I yelled at the speaker.

"Apologies, Mr. Barry. It can be a little disorienting but please try to interact positively."

"WHAT?"

"We apologize for the inconvenience," said the voice in a dead monotone before switching back to a more conventional tone. "If you press the button on the side of the window, you can communicate with the other Mr. Barry."

Looking down, I saw what looked like a fifty-year-old light switch being held together with duct tape. These people were extracting folks from alternative universes and this was the kind of equipment they had? This was definitely a prank, a well planned out one, but I was seeing the cracks in the clever fiction now.

I pressed the button and spoke into the 1930s era brass-faced intercom system.

"Hello."

"Who is that?" asked a suddenly frightened, supposedly alternative version of myself from the other side of the glass. "Where am I?"

"Who are you?"

"My name is Miles Barry. I live at 421 Cranberry Lane. I've done nothing wrong. What do you want from me?"

"How did you get here?" I asked him, hoping to trip him up and get him to break character. "What year is it? Who is the President of the USA?"

"I don't remember how I got here, just woke up here, and it is 1994 and Gary Hart is President. I'm not crazy. Do you think I'm crazy?"

He was younger than me, which I suddenly realized. He looked so much like me I hadn't really paid attention to anything beyond the unsettling familiarity. That led me on an effort to determine if this could be a relative someone had found that I didn't know about. There was a trick to the lights, or maybe this was some kind of virtual reality theatre. I kept staring at the other version of Mr. Barry and waiting for him to blink or reveal the game.

He didn't blink. Instead, a door I hadn't noticed before opened alongside the window, swinging open like one of those secret panels in an old movie. I walked tenatively towards it, partly out of concern for booby traps, but mostly out of a sense that someone would very soon be jumping out of the darkness and saying "Gotcha! We gotcha good!"

That didn't happen. The door led right into the room where the other Mr. Barry was sitting at a table. I could see him from the doorway, which caused me to pause before walking slowly into the room.

The other Mr. Barry jumped back when he saw me.

"What the fuck?" he spat out once he found his voice.

"My thoughts exactly. What are they paying you?"

"Paying me? Damn straight someone ought to be paying me for putting me through this shit. What's the game, dude? Who set this crap up."

He stood up and for a long series of seconds clicked onwards as we stood and stared at each other in silence. He seemed to be having the same experience I was, getting lost in the recognition we found in each other's faces. If this was a prank, it was an extremely elaborate one.

And then we stepped forward and I put my hand on his arm.

All at once, millions of images flashed through my mind, pictures of things I recognized and others I didn't. Old friends long gone appeared, places I'd known, and other places that felt familiar but that I didn't have a memory of being in. It was too much to process. I felt dizzy, and then the room went dark and I felt myself falling.

Everything was silent and dark, and I felt like I was drifting into sleep, but then I heard a quiet voice say, "Three more times and we should be good for this go 'round."

There was just a simple, metal framed hospital bed, without all the fixings, sitting in a room without any other furniture. The walls were off-white and exceedingly plain. The door wass on the other side of the room. I didn't try to go through it at first. It was a while before I overcame the disorientation that came with this unexplained change of sleeping venue, and once I realized that I was, in fact, in a strange place, I realized I had been drugged, or maybe they would call it "medicated," but there was no doubt that my body was sluggish and my head felt full of cotton balls.

The door opened before I could get completely out of the bed, but I had started in that direction. A woman with straight blonde hair in a simple cut, wearing a lab coat over dark blue scrubs, walked into the room. She was carrying a clipboard, the old school kind, not any sort of electronic equipment, and was very unemotional when she spoke.

"Mr. Barry, I'm going to take you down to the imaging room now."

"Am I in the hospital?" I asked, looking back at the hospital bed that sat there without any of the usual equipment you see in an actual hospital room.

"No, you are not," she said plainly. "Come with me, please."

What happened then was eerily familiar, but I felt exhausted, and with that exhaustion came resignation. I went along with the instructions, played along, and eventually found myself staring through a pane of glass at what appeared to be another version of myself. I was led into the room on the other side of the glass, confronted the other Mr. Barry, touched him, images flashed fast and furious in my mind, and I passed out.

"Mr. Barry?" said a voice in the darkness.

"Yes?"

"How do you feel?"

"Confused."

"Four sessions in two days was far more than you've done before. It could take some time to recover."

"Recover from what?"

"Do you know where you are?"

"I'm in my facility and we're preparing to start the project."

"Mr. Barry, we've been running the project for two years. You don't remember?"

"I know we've been running a lot of projects. Which one is this?"

"Your memory has been fragmenting. I don't think we can continue."

"Where's the data?" I snapped, jumping up off the table. "There is no way we've been running the project for two years. We haven't even had a successful run yet."

"We need to resume the other therapies, Mr. Barry, and we need to resume them immediately... before your reactions become violent..."

 

reQuest that, lady.

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