300-word story: Scientists attempt to create a portal into a parallel universe. What could possibly go wrong?
The thing about science is that there's always something new to discover. Refusing to allow the world to become stagnant, scientists busy themselves around the clock, revealing all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff along the way.
One such development was an unexpected by-product of a failed experiment. The team had aimed to create a gateway into a parallel dimension. What they actually created changed the lives of everyone everywhere, and not necessarily for the better.
They still don't know how or why it happened, but those pesky scientists accidentally generated billions of miniature portals across the planet, each contained within a printed photograph. What had been perfectly normal snapshots now gave a glimpse into divergent timelines, presenting what the subject's current life would be like if it had followed a different path.
Imagine the look on the face of old Bob Needler when a framed portrait of his late wife showed her very much alive and cavorting with a man half her age. Then there was Natalie Jenkins, a checkout worker in a Grimsby supermarket whose ID badge depicted her dominating a boardroom in a Wall Street skyscraper. There were countless other examples of course, some that made the viewer feel proud of what they had achieved in comparison to their alternate self, but the majority of which brought envy, resentment and an intense feeling of failure.
As for the scientists, they continue to do their thing, albeit far more quietly than before. This is slightly due to embarrassment, partly down to a sense of guilt, and mostly because they saw their old graduation photographs. In them, their counterparts were movie stars, chart-topping musicians and stinking rich socialites.
But that's the thing about science: there's always something new to discover, it just isn't always what you were hoping for.
Copyright © 2020 Rich Sutherland
Image: Max Flinterman