Somewhere nearby, a portal burned. Mary couldn't hear it, see it, or smell it, but she could feel it. There was a crackling energy like a thousand T.V.s, a static emanating through the antiseptic hallways of ION Labs. Less than a day had passed since the first inter-dimensional portal had been opened and stabilized, and now the question facing Mary and her colleagues was "what now?"
She had not slept since she had seen the portal. The mere image of it had changed her, somehow. It was impossible to forget, but how to describe it? The apparatus itself was nothing special, just an elegant and simple pair of crescent shaped devices hooked to quantum computers in adjacent rooms. But the space between the machinery was what captivated her. It looked liked visual symmetry, with images inside it, but not reversed like a mirror. As if a mirror image had betrayed its fundamental properties.
Part of her still believed that when she walked into the mission control room today, the portal would be gone. Or did she hope that to be the case?
Mary proceeded to her destination, a hallway that lead to an unmarked tile wall. As she neared it, the wall opened smoothly as her sub-dermal biometric tattoo had been scanned further back down the hall. The room she entered now was not on any map or schematic and only 13 people in existence had access to it. She was back in the mission control room.
The room was primarily dominated by sophisticated equipment that was all designed for feeding the room's singular purpose, the inter-dimensional portal which was currently shimmering in the sunken amphitheatre at the center of the circular arrangement. The portal was stable and just as she remembered it. The unmistakable feeling of terror returned and entrenched deep in her marrow. What would become of this?
She veered straight for the primary control board where her assistant and relief mission controller, Ellie Malone, awaited her arrival.
"Readings are nominal, senior," Ellie reported immediately when she saw Mary approaching, "our girl is holding strong."
"The portal is female," Mary asked flatly, making plain her disapproval of such a nonsensical concept.
"I think I just wanted to humanize it. Truth be told, I have never been more afraid of anything in my life," Ellie admitted.
Mary looked up from a tablet she had been scanning, looking Ellie hard in the eye. "I know what you mean," she confided.
Their attention quickly turned to the entrance as the wall slid open again revealing General Carthus and the commanding officer of the mission, Zane Marriner. No single person had sacrificed more or taken on greater risk than Commander Marriner. He was as brilliant a quantum theorist and scientist as Mary had ever met, but he was much more than that. His original training was in the Air Force, but his skills quickly distinguished him as a future astronaut and he had flown more successful missions in orbit and to the moon, , than any pilot in human history. The fact that he was still alive given the odds of his missions taken together was practically a statistical impossibility.
Yet to meet him was to have no doubt how he had accomplished such feats. He was confidence incarnate. A hero come to life in every sense of the word. Wholly dedicated to the mission, perfectly focused on a solution to the problem facing all of humanity: the need to find a new world for relocation. In Mary's lifetime, Earth had finally become spent of resources, choked by its own population. As governments struggled to agree on a solution and international disputes broke out in her youth, war had become inevitable, with each nation fighting fiercely to control all remaining natural resources. In her 30 years of life, Mary had never known a time of peace. Though smaller disputes still remained, the United States had formed shaky alliances with other nations and had finally labeled the problem for what it was, a global crisis threatening the very survival of the human race. The primary goal became terra forming on Mars and the moon. Sadly, this cooperation had come far too late, as these projects were still decades away from any realistic large scale migration for human kind. Zane in particular knew this better than anyone as he had commanded the mission that took the first permanent settlers to the moon. They were still doing well on their new home, but sustainability was a problem that had not even been solved for that small group of a few thousand settlers.
This portal was a beacon of hope as far as Zane was concerned, maybe even humanity's last hope. This alone made the extreme risks worth it in his eyes. He was the philosophical and practical champion of the entire endeavor.
Yes, love was a strange thing. Mary did not much like it, but she had to admit, she was in love with Zane. Not that he knew it. What an illogical and emotional concept. Yet she felt overwhelmed, truly helpless.
Mary shook the thought and focused on the task at hand. Her return to the mission control room was for one purpose and one purpose only, to send the first ever human into another dimension. General Carthus and Commander Marriner were already making their own rounds checking on final go/no-go status for the small crew assembled. Every person in the room was an expert in multiple critical fields and everyone knew someone else's job in case of need for emergency cross coverage of vital mission functions, but none of that was necessary. Every heart in the room was beating as one for the moment that was about to come, a moment years in the making. And yet, everything felt so sudden and rushed to Mary, after so many years of theorizing and preparing for the ignition of the portal.
The General came to Ellie and Mary's station first, but was not trained in their particular function and merely asked for a status update, grunting in militaristic approval. When Zane followed, the encounter was much more intense. Zane knew their station better than anyone, for he had designed every circuit and button, and it was literally the quantum computer which was keeping the portal in stable existence. The entire quantum mechanics behind it were harnessed only due to his genius. He began pressing Mary for information with a firm and unrelenting evenness.
"What is our exact time of full stability for this quantum field," he asked first while glaring fiercely at the tablet he had taken from her.
"25 hours and the two minutes which have passed since I arrived here this morning," she said, after what she felt was a noticeably long paused which had betrayed her feelings for him. So illogical.
"Stable for over 24 hours puts us past expected deterioration of portal stability," he said softly in reflection while surreptitiously scratching the base of his neck. Mary knew this body language of his, it meant his mind was elsewhere, not that she could blame him.
"Any abnormalities in quantum potentiation," he asked, but she anticipated this as his next question and merely tapped on the screen to show him the reading. Then following an answer he barely heard from her about computing performance in the quantum crystals, he asked "any quantum entanglement scenarios which need to be vetted further based on initial readings or hourly readings," then another question and another after that, all in perfect sequence from the mission protocol he had written but had memorized long ago. She gave the answers, knew them easily, but felt nervous in a way unrelated to quantum physics or mind-bending inter-dimensional travel. When the protocol was complete, he handed her tablet back to her and smiled genuinely before placing a calming hand on her shoulder and walking away.
"Commander," Mary called out, surprising even herself.
"Make it back..." she finished lamely.
He smiled again, but this time with a bit of mischief playing on his chiseled features. "Bring me back," he said with a challenge, "you are the only one who can." He winked and spun smartly on his heels, leaving Mary a short moment to admire the perfect cut of his form fitting inter-dimensional body armor.
There was no hesitation in his steps or demeanor as he addressed the other mission stations. This did not surprise her, given that her quantum computing station was really the crux of what was about to occur. After a few moments spent at each station verifying mission readiness he made his way towards the active portal zone and the barrier door set up there. He was approached by the team's science chiefs, husband and wife, Jess and Chase Ionen, founders of ION Laboratories where this facility was located. They were Zane's co-geniuses in the development of the technology supporting this mission and were world renowned quantum physicists who had met and become married while working on this project. They would be performing the final mission preparation for Zane today as only they had the expertise to activate the most important technology that Zane would need. Implanted in Zane was the world's first neurolink chip and docking portal which could link directly with the brain of the person implanted. This technology was more than controversial, it was well known and banned from the time Dr. Chase Ionen had developed it. It blurred too many lines between man and machine, and humanity had struck it down in fear, forbidden its use or further development.
The critical nature of their mission, the necessity for discovering another world where humanity could survive had brought this technology back from the brink of banishment. This extremely risky procedure which could have killed him on its own gave him his only hope of passing through the portal without dying.
In a bizarre concept within quantum physics, human consciousness actually impacted quantum outcomes by changing particles potentiating within quantum systems. In short, humans de-randomize quantum processes accidentally through consciousness, or more precisely, through their conscious observations of such systems, so any direct human interaction within such systems cannot be considered stable. The chip solved this problem, in theory. When activated, the chip's design was to temporarily firewall Zane's consciousness from the quantum portal until he was safely on the other side. Unfortunately, today would be the first, and maybe only test to see if this worked.
Chase had Zane kneel before him so that he could plug a modified coaxial cable into the chip docking point at the base of the back of his neck while Jess activated the chip using a tablet and began to take readings. She then handed the tablet down to Chase and he took over on the complicated protocols they were running. Jess then opened a small stainless steel cube and brought out the other critical component which would protect Zane, activating the small, round A.I. drone known as I.O.N. (Inter-dimensional Orbiting Neural-Interface). Mary always thought the abbreviation a bit forced, but she didn't begrudge the doctors Ionen a bit of ego in the naming. They were otherwise very humble people.
I.O.N.'s role would be to dock with the implanted chip in Zane so that he could be guided through the portal without having conscious control over himself. I.O.N. was capable of interfacing with the chip in Zane's head such that it could control his physical functions for a short time. I.O.N. could also send data to the chip or receive biofeedback data from the chip to assist Zane with understanding and safely navigating whatever environment he would face on the other side. Disorientation was also highly likely on the other side of the portal, so ION was programmed to take environmental readings, record data, take certain samples and serve as extra memory space for Zane's sensory experience. Mary would be primarily connected with ION through her station, but only if the portal remained open and permitted such information transfer. As Jess activated the device, ION hovered smoothly up over Zane's right shoulder and through her console Mary could see that ION was functioning perfectly and had already interfaced with the chip. Zane's heart rate was slightly elevated but all vital signs were within normal range.
As a final measure, a helmet was put on and sealed to Zane's suit, perfectly fitting around ION's connection to him. Though the closest dimension was theorized to be highly similar, the atmospheric conditions were unknown, so the helmet was a necessary precaution. Zane's body armor and helmet were really just a cutting edge version of similar uniforms he had worn during his moon missions.
Zane turned and stepped through the first barrier door into the portal chamber which he then closed from within. That door was sealed, then he went through a second inner door and suddenly nothing stood between him and the portal.
Zane activated his microphone within the helmet which briefly fed a high pitched sound through each station and then his voice came through clear from the other side of the barrier.
"Mission Control, this is Commander Zane Marriner, manual confirmation of all stations is a GO. I am a GO."
"This is mission control, all systems green, we are a GO. God speed, Commander."
Silence held sway for a tense moment, until Zane spoke again.
"I will step forward through this portal and into another dimension, but I will not go alone. You are all with me. What we do, we do for all of humanity. This will be our first step into a new future. This we will do, AS ONE!"
As he punctuated these final words he turned and approached the portal. Mary's eyes locked on the portal readings looking for even the slightest sign of de-randomization. The portal remained stable, even as Zane approached step by step. Then, a reaction in the readings? No, her own heart thundering in her ears. He was there. He had made contact with the shimmering surface, and now...he was through.