Zane began to sweat as his suit’s cooling system ran low on power. He should have been there by now. He trudged along through ankle-deep mist and against a wind that seemed to blow counter to whatever direction he tried to move. The harsh divide of the horizon sliced through the haze of brightly colored smoke that drifted through at intervals, seemingly from nowhere. It was Zane against the Rift.
He wasn’t alone, of course, but if anything that made it worse. He was a Riftrunner—a guide through the space between dimensions—along with his pal Deacon, who’d made the journey a dozen times to Zane’s three. They had eight travelers with them today, and with Zane at the front of the line, it was his responsibility to get them through alive. He moved forward toward the oblique angles ahead and motioned for the others to follow.
Wormhole technology had been outlawed the moment it was achieved—too dangerous. The only way to the colonies was the old way. The slow way. But for those with a desperation that could be mistaken for bravery, a new life around a new star was just a short walk away. Unfortunately, that walk was through a roiling tunnel of hyperdimensional space where parallel lines intersected and time flowed unpredictably: the Rift. The tunnels were temporary—one-time-use—and the authorities weren’t suicidal enough to chase people through, so a market naturally developed for experienced Riftrunners.
The gig was simple; all Zane had to do was survive. Just walk through the tunnel before the suits failed. He was already three-and-oh. But in a game where any mistake gets you killed, everyone has a perfect record. It would be easy to get a little overconfident.
There was something up ahead; a lump on the ground, half buried. He halted the line and approached cautiously. He’d never found anything in the Rift before. His gut told him to turn back, but curiosity impelled him forward. When he got within a few meters he confirmed his deepest fear. It was a body.
He sent the group back, using sign language due to the interference. Get Deacon. Alone with the body, he knelt at its side and shook it. No response. He flipped up the visor. Staring up at him was a face frozen in an expression of panicked dread. It was his own face. His heart jackhammered against his sternum, but he couldn’t turn away.
Two timelines had intersected here. But was he looking at an alternate present? Or a certain future? He shut the visor. One thing was clear in his mind: one way or another, this would be his last trip through the Rift.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Israel Holtzhausen, used with permission.