High school senior and amateur physicist Audie Masters has discovered what no other physicist has been able to prove: that parallel universes do exist, and there is a way to journey into them. She also discovers something else: a parallel version of herself, living the kind of life Audie never could have imagined for herself. Now Audie is living that life, too, full of adventure, romance, and reality-bending science. It’s all more than she could have hoped for–until something goes wrong.
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They said it couldn’t be done.
Well, that’s not exactly true.
They said it couldn’t be done by a 17-year-old girl sitting alone in her bedroom on a Saturday morning.
Well, that’s not exactly true, either, since it’s not like there’s some physicist out there who specifically made that prediction—“A seventeen-year-old girl in her pajamas? Never!”—but the point is, no one is going to believe me even if I can prove what happened, which I’m not really sure I can.
But I know I did it. I was there. I didn’t imagine it or dream it or go into some sort of altered state that confused me. I felt the wind. I smelled the dog’s breath. I saw our mother. I drank some tea. It all happened.
So if she’s real—and I know she is—I just have to prove it. Go there again and this time bring something back. Like a strand of her hair or a piece of her fingernail.
Something with her DNA on it. To prove that she is me.
It’s been going on for six months.
Six months of trying every day, sometimes twice a day, the big earphones over my head to block out any outside noise, while the voice on the CD says things like, “Imagine yourself into clouds. Be the rain. You are a flower—let the butterflies fan your face.” An hour or more of that every day, with it never, ever working. And why should it? If you think about it, it’s totally ridiculous.
But I knew I had to try something, and this was as close to an idea as I had.
It was all about the vibrations.
There’s this theory in quantum physics—a really respected theory, even though a lot of physicists still disagree with it—that says the smallest building block of life isn’t the atom or electron or quark, it’s actually tiny, vibrating strings. Superstrings that change shape and speed and tone depending on whether they want to turn themselves into subatomic particles or elephants or galaxies.
And what turns them from amorphous, random strings into cotton balls or horny toads is the particular way they vibrate—fast or slow, big waves, little waves, strings composing the universe the way violins create the sound of an orchestra. Strings in you and me. Strings in alien life forms, if there really are any. Vibrating strings as the basic building block of every single universe that might be out there.
So when my best friend Lydia mentioned one night that her yoga instructor had been teaching them all how to change their vibration, my ears shot up like a terrier’s. I don’t usually ask her too much about yoga—it’s just too weird for me—but this time I had to know.
“What do you mean, change your vibration?” I asked her. Casually. Because I knew if I showed too much interest, she was bound to launch into one of her lectures again about how yoga will change my life and why aren’t I coming to class with her and how can I keep living this way, and all of that. Ever since she got wrapped up in it a few years ago, she thinks it’s the answer for everything.
Of course, she accuses me of thinking physics is the answer for everything, so I guess we’re even.
“Raise your vibration,” she repeated. “You know, take it from a level 200 to a 310.”
“Oh,” I said. “Uh-huh.”
We were chopping onions for her mother, who was making dinner for all of us, and I waited a few more seconds, really concentrating on my onion, before asking Lydia some more.
“So . . . how does he do it?” I said. “You know, get your vibration up.”
Lydia scraped her choppings into a bowl and reached for the clump of garlic. “You meditate,” she said. “An hour every day. He guides you through it until you can free your mind.”
“This is . . . in class?” I asked. Lydia goes to yoga every day after school, and teaches there a couple of times a week.
She laid down her knife and gave me a critical look. “He’s that visiting instructor I told you about—remember, the one I told you that you had to come see? But you were too busy reading Hawkins, or whatever.”
It was true, I’d made up some excuse. Although I probably really was reading Hawkins.
Lydia went back to chopping. “I bought one of his CDs afterwards—the one with the same meditation from class. It’s amazing.”
I picked up a green pepper, ran it under the faucet, and pretended I didn’t care. “So . . . do you think it worked? I mean, do you think it might have changed your vibration?”
“Definitely,” Lydia said. “Can’t you tell? Everyone else has really noticed it.”
I wasn’t sure what a 200 vibration versus a 310 looked like, but I was willing to take her word for it.
“So do you think I could . . . I mean, do you have it here?” I asked. “Could I maybe listen to it? Just out of curiosity.”
Lydia gave a little snort. “Sure. You’ll last about two minutes. It’s not ‘scientific’ enough for you.”
I shrugged. “Just to try. Out of curiosity.”
Which is why I raced over to the yoga studio after school the next day before Lydia could get there, and secretly bought my own copy. Because I could tell right away, after listening to it for just a few minutes in her room, that this might finally be the key—the exact secret I’d been looking for.
Because here’s the story: I need a miracle. Not some woo-woo, yoga-world kind of miracle, but a good honest scientific one. The kind of miracle that saves a girl in my position and sends her off to college so she can begin the rest of her life.
I know I’m good at physics. If it’s not too braggy to say so, I’m great at it. It’s been my life ever since I learned about it in fifth grade.
But there’s a major, major problem, and everyone I’ve talked to about it—from my school counselor to my teachers—agrees: I suck at math. I mean, suck at it like people who can’t throw a ball suck at that. Like, embarrassingly, humiliatingly suck at it. My brain just will not bend itself that way, no matter what I’ve tried.
And I’ve tried. Special books, remedial tutoring, instructional videos, even step-by-step comic books for little kids. I can do addition and subtraction pretty well, and multiplication if I’m not under too much pressure and have enough time, but I swear, there’s something about algebra that makes my skin break out. And geometry? Forget it.
And there’s no college that I know of that will let you into their physics program—or probably any program—if you can’t at least pass Algebra I. So there’s that.
Then there’s the fact that it’s not just any college I want to get into, it’s Columbia University in New York City, where the greatest physicist in the world is currently a professor, and if he could be my teacher I would simply die from mental ecstasy, because I’ve read every single one of his books about ten times apiece, and I know if I could just get into his program and show him how I was meant to be a theoretical physicist and unlock all the secrets of the universe right alongside him, my life would be perfect in ways I can’t even imagine yet. Well, that and this one particular guy falling in love with me, and then I’d be set.
But the problem is the great Professor Herbert Hawkins knows how to do math. He believes in it. He’s a professor of both math and physics. And I doubt if he’d lower himself to even spit on an application like mine, with all my straight As in science and straight Ds in math. Not without something extra—a secret weapon of some sort.
Which brings us back to vibration.
I was reading one of Professor Hawkins’s books earlier this year—the new one he has out about parallel universes—and there was this one little line in there about vibration. He said that one of his colleagues threw out this idea at lunch one day about how we might be able to bridge the gap between our universe and any parallel one next door if we could just get the strings to vibrate right. Line them up somehow, get them all on the same frequency, then oop!, slip right past the barrier and end up in another world.
Everybody laughed at him, of course—that’s what physicists do all the time, to spur each other on to even greater discoveries—but I wasn’t laughing. I wasn’t even sure if I got it. And then it was just a few days later when Lydia said the thing about her yoga teacher and the vibrations, and it all started fitting into place.
Because if it’s true? And I’m the one who proves it? Won’t Columbia University let me in then? Wouldn’t Professor Hawkins see my name at the top of the application and say, “What? What’s this girl doing in with the rest of the stack? Give her to me—I’m calling her this morning. I have to have Audie Masters in my lab.”
Which is why every day for the past six months I’ve been applying myself to vibrations. Diligently turning myself into clouds and raindrops and wisps of air as the yoga teacher drones on in my headset, and trying as hard as I can to change my vibration from whatever it is to whatever it needs to be.
And then this morning it finally worked. I didn’t even realize it until suddenly there was this cold wind blowing against my bare leg. I reached down to pull the sheet up over it, but there was no sheet. There was no bed. Just cold, hard ground.
I gently peeked open one eye.
And there I was. On top of a mountain somewhere, sitting on the dirt, the wind whipping over me something fierce.
And there she was. A young woman. Sitting just a little distance away from me on the edge of a cliff, her legs dangling over, hiking boots on her feet. Her eyes were closed, her face tipped into the sun.
She had long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. I could only see the side of her face, but what I saw was enough. I drew in a breath.
She must have heard me, because she turned and her eyes got wide. We both stared at each other for one long frozen moment. Because of course we recognized each other—we were each other.
My brain was still having a hard time catching up. I’d done it. It had worked. The truth is maybe I hadn’t really believed in any of it until that moment—a theory is a theory, and it doesn’t mean it’s right—but now there I was, in a parallel world, staring at a parallel version of me.
I didn’t know what else to do. I gave her this little dorky wave and started to say, “Hi. I—”
But that was it. Whatever I thought I was going to say—“Hi, I’m Audie. Hi, I’m from another universe. Hi, I think you’re me.”—I never got it out.
Because right about then her dog decided he’d better kill me.
He was a big boy, maybe a hundred pounds of yellow, snarling Labrador, and even though I’ve always heard those kinds of dogs are supposed to be friendly, apparently that was only in my own universe and not this one. In this one he looked ready to rip my throat out.
“Easy, Red,” the girl said, but she didn’t seem all that concerned. The dog maneuvered in front of her, his legs rigid, ears back, hackles mohawking down his spine.
Meanwhile the girl still sat there looking at me curiously like I was some new kind of animal that had just appeared.
The dog started edging toward me, growling so loudly now I could actually feel the vibration of it in my stomach. This wasn’t what I expected just from listening to a meditation CD. Where were the fluffy flowers? Where were the happy clouds?
“Red, relax!” the girl said. “It’s just a holo.” She picked up a rock and flung it at me. She was just starting to say, “See—” when the rock hit me and bounced off.
Her eyes narrowed. She picked up a second rock and pitched it at my chest.
“Ow! Can you stop?”
The girl sprang to her feet. She pointed at me with an outstretched arm and started shouting.
“What are you? Did Ginny send you? Where did you come from? What do you want?”
It was hard to make myself heard over the dog, who was now more worked up than ever, slavering and barking, just inches away.
I held up my arms in front of my face. “Can you call off your dog? Please?”
“What are you?” the girl demanded. “Who sent you? Are you real?”
“Yes, I’m real! Nobody sent me—I sent myself. Now PLEASE!”
And then suddenly everything changed.
The wind shifted direction and blew over me from behind. The dog tilted his head and sniffed. It was like he’d finally just gotten a good whiff of me.
And instantly his whole body relaxed. His ears came up, his mouth popped open, his tongue hung out, and his tail wagged. He went ahead and tackled me, just like I’d been afraid, but he was licking me and wiggling all over like he’d never been so happy in his life.
“Red—” the girl said, but her dog was too busy wrestling with me to notice.
Finally I got control of the situation and was able to sit up again. “Good boy,” I said, patting his head, and that was enough to make him plop down in front of me, chin on my lap, tail swishing happily in the dirt.
The girl stared at me in wonder. “I don’t understand.” But I was pretty sure she did. Whether she was ready to believe it or not, her dog had just confirmed our matching DNA.
Although the truth was, we weren’t exact duplicates. Not exactly. She looked a little taller I am, definitely way fitter—or maybe just more outdoorsy, although the way she carried herself made it look like her arms and shoulders were a lot more muscular than mine. But aside from that, same square face, same nose and mouth and blue-gray eyes—same overall everything.
Except for our hair. That was the only real difference. Same exact color, but mine is limp and scraggly and sad, whereas hers was long and thick like a horse’s tail. You could have pulled a tractor out of the mud with that hair. Mine breaks if you even try to comb it.
And we were dressed differently, of course. She wore gray pants, hiking boots, a navy blue sweater. It all looked pretty regular—like something I could have bought at an outdoor clothing store if I wanted to. No weird fabrics made out of negative-ionic pulsating supercharged atoms or anything. It just looked like regular fleece and cotton.
Whereas I sat there in the dirt still wearing what I’d had on five minutes before: just my sleep shirt and boxers. No socks, no shoes, nothing else. Thank goodness for the warm dog draped over my lap. He was the closest thing I had to pants.
“I don’t understand,” the girl said. “Any of this.”
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” I said.
“But you can explain it?”
“I think so, maybe if I start at the beginning—”
But that would have to wait. Just then a huge gust of wind came up and blasted right through me. I shivered so hard the dog had to lift his head off my lap.
Despite everything, the girl was practical. “You’re going to freeze out here. Come on—I need to get you some clothes.” She headed toward the trees behind her. “Hurry—we have get to my camp.”
She took off at a trot, and the dog and I jumped up to follow.
But as the three of us made our way through the pines, I couldn’t help having a few random thoughts: like, how did I know it was safe?
And for that matter, how did the girl know I was?
Because, really, what did she know about me? I’d just shown up, suddenly out of nowhere, wearing her same face and body and totally inappropriate clothing, and yet she was trusting me enough to take me back to her camp? How did she know I wasn’t dangerous? How did she know I wasn’t some alien or clone sent to harm her?
And same question for me—how did I know I could trust her?
Because when you thought about it, I had no absolutely idea where I was. Not just where in the world but in what world. The place looked a lot like Earth, but it could be completely different. There might be creatures on it I had never heard of or seen. The girl looked human, but how did I know she didn’t eat her own kind? Maybe she was leading me back to her people, who were going to throw a big party in my honor and then roast me alive.
At least the dog was on my side. He stayed so close I could feel his breath against my bare leg as I hurried down the trail, trying not to jam my bare feet against every rock and twig.
At one point the girl got a little too far ahead of me. I was afraid I’d lost her.
“Audie?” I called out, wondering if it was possible she had my same name.
She didn’t, but she did come back. And she understood.
“Halli,” she said, pointing to herself. “I’m Halli.”
I introduced myself and we both shook hands.
Which, considering the science of the whole thing, might be the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.
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