The Foreigner

I slip into the fake-leather seat, and look at my watch. I have about an hour before the shareholders’ meeting, but I have to stop by the day care first, so I want to make this snappy. I’ve found that the little impatient look usually stops these people from making small talk and gets them down to business. Not this guy, though. From the moment I sit down, he starts with the chit chat. I sigh softly to myself, not wanting to be rude, and look up at the mirror that lets me see a little of his face. That’s when I notice that he’s not from here. I can hear it in the accent, and when I look closely I can see that his eyes reflected in the mirror look a little… off. Great. Just what I need. Another bloody foreigner.

Still, I’m not prejudiced, so I give the man my particulars and he gets going. I know it’s probably going to take at least twenty minutes, so I lean back, close my eyes and hope I can maybe just sleep through it.

No such luck. He’s chattering away at me, about the weather and some boring local political thing, when he looks up at the mirror at the same time I glance up and our eyes meet. “You might not realize this,” he says to me, “but I’m an immigrant.”

“You don’t say,” I answer, bored and rolling my eyes, though he can’t see me anymore, his focus back on his job where it belongs.

“It’s true,” he says, not noticing my sarcasm. “I have a home here now, but I came through the portal about a year and a half ago. You ever been through?” he asked, his eyes darting up to the mirror and catching my gaze.

I fake a smile and shake my head. “No,” I say.

He laughs mirthlessly. “Well, you probably would not want to. Oh, my plane is a beautiful place. We have these amazing snow-capped mountains there that you just don’t have here, and the architecture cannot be believed.” He pauses a moment, and I worry that I’m going to get the tourism board lecture. Instead, he mercifully goes back to his story. “I’m sure the other planes are lovely, too. But the trip – Gott in Himmel – it’s a bear. I truly thought I was going to die. It was like my flesh was being ripped off my bones. Yeugh.” He shivers at the memory.

Of course, I’ve heard all about the terrible pain of the interdimensional transporters. They say that the scientists who accidentally created the first rift between one instance of the universe and the others only realized they had done anything remarkable at all when they heard the agonized shrieking of the poor bastard who fell in the hole. Not something that sounds much like a holiday to me. I always said I’d wait until they figured out some painless way to travel between the planes, thank you very much. Besides, I never really understood what was so great about being surrounded by a bunch of foreign freaks in the first place. It’s not like you even have to travel for that.

But some people think it’s the most exciting trip you can take. The Hendersons down the street took the whole family last summer, kids and all, on a tour of three different universes. That seems like child abuse to me, but it’s a free country. Marsha Henderson said it was ‘educational’. I’d rather just watch a documentary about it on T.V.

They’ve figured out that the other universes, at least the ones people can get to, are fundamentally the same. They say that we all started as one plane, then some particular thing happened here but it didn’t happen there, and poof! Another branch on the universe tree. As time went by, every subtle difference going back though history led to greater and greater differences between the planes. They say that some of the atmospheres in the other planes would be deadly to people from here. The trip through the rift does something to you though, and basically turns you into whatever people are over there. Also, not something that appeals to me that much. I’d like to keep my organs exactly where there are. There are plenty of places to visit here in this plane, I say.

“That sucks,” is all I say to this guy, though. I’m not sure if he even hears me.

“And once you get though the rift, the bastards at immigration are no walk in the playground, either. It took me months to get my resident’s card here, even though I had all the paperwork ready before I left.” His eyes catch mine in the mirror again, and I nod. I don’t even know why they let otherworlders stay here. I mean, they’re just taking the jobs and resources away from people who were born and bred here. It doesn’t seem fair.

As if he can tell what I’m thinking, this guy says, “And trying to get a job – oh, what a pain in the elbow that was. I had a good job back home.” He looks at me again in the mirror, and I make some non-committal noise. “I had high status in the community, made a good, good living, had some nice savings buried away. You know, they don’t even let you in here without six months worth of cash to live off. And the trip isn’t cheap either. Not that the money was a problem for me, not then. It goes pretty quick on this side, though. The exchange rate is terrible.”

I can’t help myself. “So, if you had it so good over there, what made you want to move here? It couldn’t be for the glamourous life you have now, eh?” I tried for a joke, but it didn’t seem to go over. Maybe humour doesn’t translate well.

“You’ve never been through?” he asks again, and I shake my head. “Things are different there; I guess they are different everywhere. Here, you have your two moons. Where I come from, there’s only one and you can hardly even see the blessed thing. And even though I studied about this plane before I came, I never really understood what real poverty was until I saw the people here living in their own filth, eating whatever garbage they could find. Terrible.”

I thought about explaining that we have the concept of merit here, and that people can’t just get a free ride on the backs of the others who work hard, but there’s no point of trying to reason with these people. They just seem to think that everyone should be entitled to a good life without having to work for it. Pathetic. I squirmed a little in my seat, but he just carried on.

“And of course here, between the different anatomy and advances in medical science, doctors make barely enough to live off. Where I’m from, let me just say, such an idea would be unthinkable.”

I laugh, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He says, “Back home, I had money and power, but neither of those can guarantee you good health. At least not on my plane. I never planned on moving; didn’t even like to travel much. But, I had a sickness that would have killed me there. I’d heard that here it was a five minute job to remove the tumour. So, in order to live, I moved.”

He doesn’t say anything after that, but I can feel his tools poking around in my reproductive sac. It feels like he’s almost done. “Why didn’t you just go back?” I ask.

He sighs, long and sad. “Things are different everywhere,” he said, his voice thick with something that almost sounds like regret. “It’s a one-way trip out of my plane, unfortunately. You can leave, but you can’t come back.”

“Why is that?” I ask, genuinely curious.

“They are afraid that the trip out changes you permanently,” he says, “and the government is afraid that these changes pose a risk to everyone else. The fact that your cells change both ways in the transporter is something my people don’t seem to understand,” he says, bitterly. It sounds like a reasonable enough precaution to me, though. Maybe we could learn something from those other planes after all.

After a moment I ask, “So, you were a doctor back home, too?”

He snorts. He’s pulling the baby out of my uterus now, and I can see my heart in its organ sac beating faster. Nothing hurts, of course, but my system must be pumping extra fluids into the reproductive sac to fill the void left by my soon to be child. I’ve read about how on some planes, people have their organs inside their skin. How awful that must be – how would they ever fix anything?

“No, I wasn’t a doctor,” he says. “I was a decorated personal carrier jet pilot. It was the best job in the world, I think. Money, prestige, you got to meet the most influential people on the planet.”

“A carrier jet pilot,” I ask, as he comes around the barrier with the squirming jumble of bulbous organ sacs that is my child, and places it in my hands. Under the translucent sacs that hold her organs – it’s a girl, I can see her tiny uterus – I see her face squint as she starts to cry. I hope she knocks that off before I drop her off at day care. They hate whiny kids there.

“Yeah,” he said, smiling ruefully, as he pulls off his gloves. “I was a taxi driver.”

© M. Darusha Wehm