by Kenneth Kao
People always ask me why I do it. They wonder how a man can stand in front of a rift-bomb and
calmly defuse it, knowing that at any moment it might suck me into oblivion.
I never answer them, or answer the question myself, but today is different because floating in
front of me is the rift-bomb that will kill me. I recognize it. It was meant for me, designed for
me. I am its trigger.
I should turn around and let someone else deal with it. But I don't.
No one is sure who sends the bombs or why. Are they sent to our reality by terrorists? By bored
alien children looking for amusement? No one knows. But they began appearing a decade ago,
popping up as tiny balls of antimatter in technological shells, waiting for the right trigger. We
thought we could contain them within our shield zones, little areas where nothing could come in
contact with the floating devices and absorb the antimatter should it explode, but there are too
many bombs now. We can't keep up.
And if the right trigger comes in contact with the right rift-bomb, without a shield zone --
Kaboom. No more world. Our reality is gone.
That's what our scientists believe, at least.
These days, defusing the rift-bombs only seems to serve to make room for the newer, more
advanced rift-bombs that continue to clamber into our reality.
So I tap in the code on the keypad, the clear, vault-thick door slides open and I step in. I put all
my tools down because they won't do me any good right now. This bomb is the most advanced
bomb I've ever seen. It doesn't even seem to have a shell, though physics say it has to; it looks
like a floating ball of spinning black matter.
The reason I can do this job is not because I'm brave. Or talented, or smart. I do this because I
I stare at the spinning black hole. It seems to call at me. Not like music, but something deeper,
an emotional yearning, or a sense of unity.
I fear my wife, Lenore, will leave me.
It's not that we don't have a "loving" relationship, but I am afraid she'll realize that I'm
incapable of filling the void inside her -- her own internal rift-bomb.
Hers is a pure love. A simple love. She loves me because I seem to love her. She sees how
much effort and care I put into the flowers I bring her before each mission. She believes the
little notes I leave on her bedpost. The romantic dinners and the scented baths. She thinks our
relationship is the perfect relationship. But I only do these things because each and every
waking moment, I worry that some other man will meet her and be the man that will love her
better than I can. I'm not romantic because I love, I'm romantic because I have to be.
I might die today, as I think I will, staring at this device from another dimension, sent by a
terrorist or alien child I will never meet. Never know. Never understand.
He will make me a hero. I will die a heroic death. And my wife --
Wife to a hero.
He will save me because then it wouldn't be my fault when Lenore finds someone else. It won't
be because I failed her, or because there was someone better for her.
That's why my hand doesn't shake as I reach out to touch this rift-bomb with no box, structure,
or container. Merely a black, empty space, floating in front of my eyes. It shouldn't be able to
exist without sucking the entire universe into it. How is it held together?
Something is, something has to be. But I can't defuse what I cannot detect.
So I will touch it to find out how it's being stored. You aren't supposed to touch rift-bombs
without knowing how their shell works and how to disarm them, especially with the way this one
makes me feel. But it insists that I touch it, protocol be damned. It tells me that if I do touch it,
the world will believe I'm not a coward, my wife was a devoted wife, our relationship was bliss.
So I touch it. As my matter touches the rift-bomb, I realize it is not a bomb at all . . .
. . . it is my own construct. It is a gateway for me to come through and switch realities and
And it worked.
This is what all of the rift-gateways are. Unsatisfied people with nothing to lose by leaving their
own reality, hoping their twins in another dimension might feel the same and offer to switch
places with them. Fishing, we call it.
I stare at the fingers of the hands that once belonged to my other self. The rift-gateway is gone,
the transfer between us immediate and undetectable.
I realize that in this reality, Lenore might still be with me. Maybe she didn't commit suicide
when I had an affair.
I leave the shield zone and tell my boss I'm quitting, then rush home, filled with hope.
I find her. She's alive. She loves me, and she has these flowers I never bought her.
When I see her, I tell her how much I've missed her and how I'll never leave her again. And
when she replies, telling me I've only been gone a few hours, I begin to cry.