Vertical Flight – Laura Duerr

Vertical Flight – Laura Duerr

May 2021

Welcome to Quantum Ridge Vineyards! We’ll be tasting six wines today, all red varietals from the 2068 vintage sourced from Quantum Ridge vineyards across multiple universes.

To answer a couple of the most common questions: yes, there is almost certainly a tasting going on in this exact spot in another dimension further downstream; and no, most likely you aren’t at that tasting due to inherent variations in the dimensions we visit. This is particularly true in the more distant universes like Alpha-Nine, and especially the Beta universes, where anything from who’s president to which butterfly species exist could be different. Any other questions about our vineyards or interdimensional shipping can be directed to Doctor Fischer, our founder and resident physicist.

It’s a warm April Saturday and the valley is full of weekenders going wine tasting. Quantum Ridge is packed, but I’m the only one available to serve customers. A bachelorette party of seven has just departed, leaving wine glasses scattered across the bar. Three couples, all standing around the bistro tables as far from the bar as they can get, have just enough time to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy a sip of wine in silence before another bachelorette party arrives in a limo. This time, there are ten of them, and the bride is wearing a white lace minidress, a sequined sash, and a tiara that looks like a pageant crown.

I conceal my own sigh. It’s a typical Saturday at the Quantum Ridge in Alpha-Two, and I’m ready to move on.

My request for a promotion has just been denied for the second time. Derek, my manager, thinks I’m thriving where I am, and he trusts me to run everything when he has meetings or seminars—which he has whenever he’s sick, hung over, or just doesn’t want to come in that day. There are two other hosts, but Richard is on vacation and Jill called out sick, leaving me alone on a warm spring weekend with wedding season ramping up.

I smile mechanically and welcome the latest group.

After the first pour, I glance at the clock. It’s 11:22—eight minutes until the shipment from Alpha-One arrives.

Our first offering—our own Alpha-Prime’s red blend—comes from the Zinfandel, Grenache, and Tempranillo grapes harvested from the vineyard just beyond that window. Since this universe is where the technology allowing us to access other dimensions was invented, our universe is named Alpha-Prime. In the nose you’ll notice some blackberry and plum, and your first sip will be fairly fruit-forward, tapering into a lingering spice finish.

11:32. The shipment has arrived, but Bachelorette Party 2, already at least two wineries deep, is giggling over their third pour. One of the couples leaves without buying anything. I load glasses in the dishwasher and resist looking at the clock too frequently.

Now we’re going to sample the same red blend harvested from the Quantum Ridge vineyard in the nearest alternate universe, designated Alpha-One. Similar nose, but you’ll notice distinctly more spice and even slight tobacco notes when you taste. Alpha-One experienced a slightly hotter and drier summer than we did, which concentrated the flavor of the grape just before harvest. If you hold it up to the light, you’ll notice a darker ruby color, too.

The bridal party leaves at 11:42. I feel sorry for their driver: one of those bridesmaids is definitely about to vomit in his limo.

The other two couples are lingering. They each have only one pour left and don’t seem to be in a hurry to get it.

I slip out of the tasting room and hurry down the concrete hallways to the warehouse.

The shipping gate is still open, the four prisms stretched apart by their own force field lines to form the corners of a shimmering, translucent rectangle. Through it I can make out Alpha-One’s warehouse, identical to Alpha-Two’s except Alpha-One’s industry barrels are taller and skinnier. My heart beats faster just seeing them. Just one dimension lies between me and the headquarters of Quantum Ridge on Alpha-Prime, the dimension below which all the others are stacked, and the source of all my heartache.

The Alpha-Two Doctor Fischer, the one I work with, is going over the gate data with the Alpha-One Doctor Fischer. Alpha-Prime’s Doctor Fischer invented the dimensional gate technology, and once her US government hammered out regulation with the other dimensions’ US governments, she spread the winery business—the industry her parents had worked in—down the stream of accessible dimensions, bringing her other selves on board as she went. Given all the possibilities her technology offered the government, they were only too happy to allow Fischer to apply it to wine production. I’m not sure exactly how wealthy it’s made the original Doctor Fischer, but the answer lies in the vicinity of “extremely”.

Two warehouse managers—Eduardo, one from here and one from Alpha-One—are studying the data as well. In pairs, Eduardo and Doctor Fischer jointly operate the quantum gate, evaluate dimensional integrity, and exchange data. Most of the Quantum Ridge warehouse managers are an Eduardo, just like most of their tasting rooms include a Cate—or a Kate, depending on how we spell it. At the moment, I spell it with a ‘C’, though that’s changed more than once.

Both Eduardos wave at me as I enter the warehouse, but both doctors remain focused on their tablets. All of the Doctors Fischer are obsessed with gate safety. The technology is safe enough, having been continually studied and improved over the last seven years, but the Doctors are still vigilant. No one wants the PR nightmare of losing a shipment—or an employee.

The two warehouse crews are nearly done. Cases of wine from Alpha-One and Alpha-Prime are being unloaded here, while product from Alpha-Two and the lower Alpha and Beta dimensions is sent through the gate for distribution upstream. Only two pallets are left on our side.

The visiting Doctor Fischer nods to me and exits through the gate. Glowing ripples cascade in sparkling fractals across the gate’s surface when she passes through. I can still see her on the other side, distorted, as if she’s standing behind a ripping sheet of water.

Alpha-Two’s Doctor Fischer also nods. I back away casually, fading among the barrel racks to wait for her.

The rest of the pallets pass through the gate and Doctor Fischer confirms clearance. With a wave to her double, she initiates gate closure. The prisms begin to slide back together, collapsing the blurry window into the other dimension and exposing the rest of our own warehouse like a veil lifting. My eyes water. I’ve worked around Quantum Ridge gates for five years and there’s still something about the dimensions opening and shutting that my mind refuses to process. What it sees registers as a rush of nausea, a refocusing of my eyes, and a moment of inexplicable dread before the worlds right themselves.

There’s a flash of light as the prisms close in on each other, forming an ordinary-looking cube perched atop a post. It stays there, always, as a sort of locus, a point that exists across all the known Quantum Ridge dimensions.

Doctor Fischer joins me among the towering barrels.

“Cate,” she greets me.


“Kate got the promotion.”

I feel the words like a door slammed in my face. Kate, the version of me in Alpha-One, had the good fortune to have worked for a Derek who got himself fired by headquarters earlier this month. Now she’s been picked to replace him as manager—something I’d been striving for here, but with Derek still in my path, my chances for advancement are slim. I needed her where she was, in order to switch with her, get the promotion myself, and come one step closer to headquarters.

Doctor Fischer isn’t done: “And you’re on the verge of getting fired. Derek’s been asking the others if they think you’re pulling your weight in the tasting room.”

Defeat immediately flares into defiance. “I am.”

“We know. Everyone knows he’s grasping at straws.” She doesn’t bother to keep her voice down; who would fire her? Quantum Ridge would cease to exist without her. “But we have a filing cabinet full of résumés for a job like yours. Derek won’t keep a troublesome employee when he could simply get a new one.”

I have been far from troublesome, but that argument is moot. “I still want to talk to her about switching. You and your doubles still want to write about me, don’t you?”

“Cate, you’ve come all the way from the Betas. Is one more dimension really going to make a difference—to either of us?”

“Two more.” I meet her gaze steadily. “I didn’t just come from the Betas—I came from Beta-Three. After the fire. I’m going all the way to Prime.”

Doctor Fisher is not easily fazed. Her surprise registers only as a single raised eyebrow. “Why Prime?”

I can’t tell her exactly or she’ll refuse to help me. “You know what headquarters did to the Beta dimensions. If I don’t get to Alpha-Prime, they could do it again.” Hopefully she’ll think I’m progressing towards Prime in order to lodge a complaint or confront the managers at headquarters; if she knew my intention was to dig up enough dirt on her winery’s broken promises to ruin it across every known dimension, she’d probably report me. “What if it’s Alpha-Two next time?”

Doctor Fischer checks our surroundings with a sigh. The fact that she doesn’t dispute me only confirms what I always suspected: with the gate technology allowing access to potentially infinite universes and infinite resources, any one of those universes could be expendable.

“Visit Kate during the next shipment,” she says finally. “See if switching is even feasible. Then we can talk.”

Yes, the year Alpha-Three was inaccessible temporarily put a serious hitch in our inventory! Gravitational fluctuations of that magnitude are rare, but they do cause quite the bottleneck given that shipments have to move sequentially up and down the dimensional ladder. Unfortunately, even with shipping restored, we won’t have any wines from Alpha-Four for quite some time given the global impact of severe drought conditions there. If you have an Alpha-Four vintage in your cellar, save it for a special occasion.

Our final blend comes from Alpha-Five. You may notice a note of melon that isn’t normally associated with reds, but there’s something special about Alpha-Five’s viticultural area that brings out unexpected flavors in the grapes. Before Quantum Ridge, wine standards dictated that those flavors didn’t belong in a red wine, but now they’re viewed as unique glimpses into the viticulture these other universes offer.

I get my break around one. The bridal parties are off tormenting the local eateries, and Derek has gotten out of his “seminar” and come to help for the afternoon.

I check my social media feeds while I eat my sandwich in the break room. Everyone else’s dreams seem to be coming true on my screen: Shanté was elected to the state legislature, Dani just announced her first pregnancy, Stacie is making props for a sci-fi blockbuster, and Alice just quit her job to remodel a vintage Airstream and travel-write.

I stick my phone back in my pocket.

I don’t even really want the managerial role. All I want is to dismantle Quantum Ridge brick by brick, then find a different job with a company that doesn’t use up and cast aside whole universes—but to get there, I first need better standing within this company, and that means managing a tasting room.

If I can’t get the job here, I could get it in Alpha-One—in fact, I already have. It doesn’t surprise me that the other Cate—she spells it Kate—is advancing faster than me. Everyone I know seems to be doing better than I am; it makes sense that I’d be doing better than myself, too.

My phone pings. It’s a text from someone the previous Cate labeled Matt From Café Pia.

Hey. 🙂 I know it’s been a while but I wanted to check in. Interested in getting lunch sometime? Let me know.

I don’t know Matt From Café Pia. Does he work there? Did they go on a date there?

“Cate!” Derek hammers on the break room door and I jump. “Gotcha!”

“What do you need, Derek?” I force my voice into a pleasant, Stepford-esque tone.

“Need you up front. Another big group.”

I still have ten minutes on my break. Derek probably knows, and he’s probably expecting me to argue. Every Derek so far has gotten his kicks from trying to get a rise out of me; I’m well practiced at not giving him the satisfaction.

I put the remaining quarter of my sandwich back in its container and stand, smoothing my skirt and smiling.

“Be right out.”

I need to last until the next Alpha-One shipment. If I’m fired before then, I’ll have come all this way for nothing.

It’s now time for our Cabernets, all products of the Beta dimensions, which produce our finest Cabernet grapes. The Beta dimensions are distinguished by some pretty significant variations that most Betas share but aren’t found in the Alphas, like sociopolitical changes and divergent plant and animal species. You’d be surprised how much the terroir is affected when a particular pollinating butterfly never evolved there!

If you’ve visited us before, you might remember that Beta-Two and Beta-Three experienced massive wildfires four years ago that we were afraid might cripple the industry there. We’re pleased to say that those vineyards have bounced back, thanks to some rapid-growing strains of grapevines developed in collaboration with viticulturists here on Alpha-Prime. Now every Quantum Ridge location once again carries wines from Beta-Two’s reopened Quantum Ridge.

Notice the slight smokiness in this wine, along with classic blackcurrant and vanilla flavors. Notice also a distinct lack of oakiness: since oak trees are almost extinct in that dimension, most Beta-Two wines are aged in steel.

I hate the Beta-Two wines. They’re not bad wines; it’s more what they represent. The drought experienced by the more distant Alpha universes was a minor inconvenience compared to what hit the Betas. The wildfires in Beta-Three burned for seventy-eight days. My home burned on the fourth day; the vineyards were ash by the end of the second week.

Quantum Ridge contacted us from their headquarters on Alpha-Prime pledging to help us recover. They were the only ones in a real position to help, anyway; it was the fifth year of increasingly cataclysmic fires on Beta-Three’s Earth and no organization or government had any resources to spare, certainly nothing approaching the resources controlled by a wealthy transdimensional corporation. While we waited, we got back to work, salvaging from a sea of green glass shards and ash. Even Doctor Fischer helped, though she, like the rest of us, watched the undamaged shipping gate locus constantly, waiting for the distortion that would signal help arriving from Alpha-Prime.

Then the message came through: Beta-Three wasn’t going to get aid. Beta-Two had also burned, and headquarters had evaluated the damage and determined Beta-Two stood a better chance of recovery. Rather than divide up their resources to help both, they made a choice. We were on our own.

We were always aware that Alpha-Prime held all the cards, but that was the first time we’d witnessed how they were dealt. Any unique resource, any surplus, any profit in any dimension, all went up the ladder for Prime to decide how to allocate. Tales came down the line of Alpha-Prime’s fabulous wealth: their state-of-the-art winery, cutting-edge viticulture, a destination tasting room that functioned more as a showroom for the gate technology than a means to sell wine. Stories reached us, too, of Alpha-Prime’s political and environmental stability. It sounded like a utopian paradise from fourteen universes away—but with the wealth of all those universes converged at such a distance, we never knew exactly how much had accumulated. Enough to fund an experimental fast-growing grapevine for Beta-Two, apparently, yet somehow not enough to send even a cleanup crew to Beta-Three.

I don’t begrudge them their political stability. I’ve traveled through enough universes to know that should never be taken for granted. I don’t even begrudge them their wealth: they started a hugely successful company and deserve the rewards of their success. What I want to hold them accountable for are their broken promises and their mindset of helping only a few when they’re more than capable of helping all. It’s neither a new nor a unique mindset, but after what it did to Beta-Three, I vowed not to let them inflict their particular version on anyone else.

Doctor Fischer agreed to my plan before I’d even finished explaining it. To her, Alpha-Prime’s betrayal was personal: their Doctor Fischer would have had to agree to their decision, meaning she’d broken a promise to her own self. I don’t think anyone ever expected the company to do what it did, least of all her, and she didn’t want to see it happen again.

Technically Beta-Three is still part of Quantum Ridge, but only as a distribution center, a stepping-stone to keep product moving between dimensions. Aside from the breezy tasting room script mention, no one really talks about Beta-Three anymore. Two years later, they did the same thing to Alpha-Four, promising to send aid and instead reducing them to a glorified warehouse staffed by workers wrapped up in hazmat gear and NDAs.

Every night before I go to sleep, I take time to remember: we had different pollinators there, lime-green bees and black butterflies that shimmered like airborne shadows. In the spring, the daffodils bloomed scarlet and orange. In summer, the poppies gilded the hillsides in pink.

When I lie in bed remembering home, I feel like Dorothy, peering through her ransacked cabin door into an alien world where even the light was different—only in the end, Dorothy gets to go home, to her comfortable, familiar colors. I just keep clicking my heels, and instead of there’s no place like home, I’m praying almost there. Almost there.

The Alpha dimensions have oak trees, at least. White oaks in Beta-Three were endangered; by the time I turned twelve, they’d been obliterated by unrelenting fire and drought. I didn’t see another oak until I exited the shipping gate on Alpha-Nine and witnessed the forest of silver-mossed behemoths climbing the sides of the valley. They seemed almost sentient: indescribably ancient monoliths, beings that had been eradicated from my home dimension but had guarded that valley since the dawn of time. It felt like they would outlast us all.

Our final tasting of the day comes from Beta-Seven. Because these universes are farther away in spacetime, they’re also more challenging for our inventory managers to reach. Beta-Seven was the most divergent universe we were capable of reaching this season. You’ll notice right away that this wine pours a distinct dark purple, almost indigo blue—this is in fact our famous Blue Cabernet, which is the result of some unique varietals of the Cabernet grape that only grow in Beta-Seven. Flavor-wise, this is a strongly tannic wine, with exotic spice notes—and I do mean exotic: about three percent of the herbs and spices on Beta-Seven’s Earth don’t exist here!

The best I can say for this dimension’s Derek is that he isn’t as bad as the Alpha-Four Derek. The week crawls by. On Thursday, I’m four minutes late thanks to road work, and I drive up the gravel lane to find Derek out front, arms folded, tapping his foot.

“You’re late.”

“They were filling potholes on Dunraven.”

“This is becoming unacceptable, Cate.”

I’m consistently punctual, and we don’t open the tasting room for another hour anyway. There’s nothing to find unacceptable, but Derek says it so he can feel important.

Maybe someone told him that the other me got his job. I hope the news gives him indigestion.

That night, at home, I organize. I make lists of my passwords, bank information, favorite coffee shops, and where my relationships stand with coworkers and locals—everything the other Cate gave me to take over her life, and everything Kate would need to take over mine. The switch could happen on very short notice. I have to be ready, both for my sake and for Kate’s.

If she even agrees to switch. I try to tell myself nothing is certain, but I’ve come this far—it’s so easy to take momentum for granted.

On Friday, we host an event for a local alumni organization. It makes for a long day, and a lot to keep both me and Derek busy. I don’t mind it. Being busy keeps my mind off the waiting, and Derek being busy keeps his mind off my employment.

Saturday arrives. I check my phone all morning, monitoring traffic, and even though the roads look clear, I leave for work fifteen minutes early. Halfway there, I grow paranoid that Derek will read something into my being early, so I stop at a roadside espresso stand for a coffee. I’m already nervy, but it doesn’t occur to me to order decaf until after I’ve left. By the time I turn up the drive to Quantum Ridge, my hands are trembling on the steering wheel.

It’s a standard Saturday morning: setting out glasses, restocking the antihistamines for the inevitable allergic reactions to the Blue Cabernet, reviewing sales figures. We’re all so worn out from the previous night’s event that we don’t talk to each other much, which is fine with me. I’m too afraid that I’ll say something to betray myself.

At 11:20, I bring a random file, ostensibly something for Doctor Fischer, to the warehouse. She’s preparing the gate, and she’s not surprised to see me.

She sets the file aside without looking at it. “Their barrels are tall enough to hide behind, but you’ll have to move fast.”

“I know.”

“Be back over here by the time they complete the shipment.”

I stand behind the gate locus and wait. At 11:30, the gate activates, the other dimension yawning open. Alpha-One’s warehouse comes into view like it’s emerging from a tunnel, its barrels taller, the sunlight streaming through its windows brighter. I can’t see anyone. They are all standing with the shipment, right where I’m standing. I shiver. Someone is occupying the same space as me, one dimension-folding away.

The Alpha-One Doctor Fischer steps forward into view, followed by Eduardo and the pallets. I step forward, too, into the new universe.

I hear the next set of pallets rolling towards the gate, so I run and duck behind the nearest assortment of barrels and make my way at a crouch out of the warehouse.

I wait at the edge of the tasting room, out of sight of the customers. Kate is running tastings with both Richard and Jill. She does a double-take when she notices me. To her credit, she doesn’t scream.

She doesn’t ask who I am (obvious) or where I came from (also obvious). However, she’s not gentle as she shoves me into the office supply closet.

“What are you doing here?”

“I know you’re busy, and I have to get back before they complete shipping, so I’ll be quick,” I say. “How would you feel about switching?”

She blinks and releases me. She has purplish shadows under her eyes that concealer can’t fully disguise, and there’s more gray in her chestnut hair than in mine. “Why?”

“I still work for Derek. He hates me. I’m about to get fired.”

“Doesn’t sound like I’d want to be you, then.”

“But you’re better than me. You could run that place, easily, like you do here.”

She hesitates. “But I hate it.”


“I hate managing. It’s exhausting. I just feel like I can’t cope with anything, not since Matt…you know.”

“Matt,” I recall, “from Café Pia?”

She looks like I just asked her what color the sky is. “Which other Matt could I mean?”

I can’t think of what to say. Matt clearly meant a lot to Kate, but I’m missing some important pieces of her story, and I don’t want to fill them in with wrong assumptions.

She puts the pieces together faster than I can. “You two—you weren’t—” She looks horrified. Only now is she realizing the extent to which I am not her, and however Matt makes us different, it hurts her deeply.

“I got a text from him,” I say carefully.

Her lips compress. It’s what we do when we’re trying not to cry. “He’s alive there?”


She almost smiles. “We were engaged,” she says. “It was a long engagement—doesn’t matter. He died in a car crash coming home late from work. He fell asleep, swerved…”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’ve never even met him?”

“No. Not yet, anyway.”

“But he texted you.”

“He texted…Cate.” I haven’t had to explain myself in a while. “I’m originally from Alpha-Four.” A lie, but everyone here remembers what happened to Beta-Three and it just creates more questions. By the time Alpha-Four was abandoned, it was no longer a shock. “I’ve been moving around a bit. The original Cate must have known him.”

“That’s illegal.” Her expression has closed off. She looks wary. She should look stunned.

This, I think, I can interpret. “How did you get Doctor Fischer to let you switch?”

She sighs. Her shoulders droop. “I figured she’d want to do research on someone who left to live in a different dimension. I offered to be a test subject. You?”

“Pretty much the same, only I’m going more for quantity over quality.”

“Every Doctor Fischer agreed to help you?” She looks impressed.

“Well, they’re pretty much all on the verge of being mad scientists.”

She chuckles. Good—she’s loosening up.

“So when you were engaged to Matt,” I ask carefully, “was that here or in Alpha-Prime?”

She sighs. “I call it a long engagement because it was actually two engagements, to two different Matts. The first was in Alpha-Prime.”

“What happened to him?”

“Drunk driver.”

“So you came here to find him again.”

“And I did.” Her smile is empty, joyless. “For a year and two months. Then I lost that one, too.”

“It’s not your Matt in Alpha-Two,” I say gently. “Not really.” Other Kates and Cates had to have this discussion with me, early on, when I was still looking for familiar faces—for familiarity in general. The Alice in my social media feeds is always doing some ambitious DIY project; Shanté is either an activist or a politician; Dani is a mother or nearly one. None of them are the friends I left in Beta-Three. After the first couple of switches, I found it easier to just keep them all at arm’s distance.

But this Kate has already switched once, and suffered loss twice. While I kept myself closed off, she pursued love, even when it broke her. The only question is whether she’s willing to endure that again.

“I know.” She nods rapidly—another gesture we intend to distract from the fact that we’re crying. We may be moving for different reasons, but the core of our longing is the same: almost there. “If you didn’t know him, though…do you know anyone out here?”

“Not really.”

“Then why? Is the management job really worth it?”

“The job is a means to an end.” I pause, all my aching words bottled up; I have maybe three minutes before the shipping window closes. “I’m going to Alpha-Prime. This company is built on the bones of discarded universes and I’m not going to let it continue. Alpha-Four deserved better, and they’re not the only ones.”

She blinks, aghast, her sorrow gone. “I’m sorry—you want my job just so you can sabotage my employer?”

“I want your job so I can…” My stopped-up words evaporate. It had never occurred to me that I’m planning exactly that, or that other people, even other versions of me, are still happy working at Quantum Ridge. My flaring anger falters.

Kate frowns. “I understand wanting revenge—honestly, I do. But if you destroy Quantum Ridge, which I don’t even know how you’d accomplish, think of the damage. How many employees does Quantum Ridge have, three hundred? Five hundred? You’d ruin all those jobs, all those families, to avenge a dimension that will never know the difference?”

“They’ve ruined ten times that by abandoning those dimensions,” I retort.

She shakes her head, undaunted, as stubborn as me and then some. “What they did was awful, but if all you’re going to do is wreck my livelihood and everyone else’s, I’m not leaving Alpha-One. Not even for Matt.”

“But what if—”

“The gate is closing.” Her eyes have hardened. I’ve never seen such anger on my face, not even in the mirror. “You should go.”

I pass the rest of the day in a daze, mechanically going through the tasting script and pouring glass after glass of blood-red wine. No one’s ever said no to switching. Everyone else has been as desperate as I am to see if they can make a better life in another dimension.

I should never have told her the truth.

During lunch, Matt texts again. I never responded and he’s afraid he had the wrong number. I still don’t answer—what would I say? I’m not jealous of Kate and what she might have with Matt, but I keep thinking about her devotion: how different, and yet how similar, her reason for switching is compared to mine.

We’re both being selfish. The difference is that her moving dimensions makes Matt’s life better, not just her own, while my move might actually make others’ lives worse. My self-centeredness eats at my insides. Whose lives have I worried about, besides mine? Whose pain have I acknowledged beyond my own?

What other option do I have?

Around four, Eduardo catches my eye from the hallway to the warehouse.

“Derek left early,” he hisses. “And he didn’t sign off on the sales reports for the month. I’ve been reminding him for days.”

“Really?” Missing month-end reports is unacceptable. If we don’t send them to Alpha-Prime, they’ll restrict our inventory selection, costing us customers and prestige. It would have been exactly the kind of opportunity I’d take advantage of if I hadn’t already met Kate. Alpha-Prime would eventually relent, but if—when—Derek made another mistake, there’d be no further forgiveness, and then one less Quantum Ridge to bring down. I wouldn’t even have to go all the way to Prime.

Instead, I hear myself offer help. “I know where they are,” I tell Eduardo. “I’ll sign for him and send them through.”

He looks amused. “You’re going to forge Derek’s signature?”

“You’ve seen it—it’s not like it’s hard.”

“I don’t know what we’d do without you, Cate.” He pats my shoulder before heading back down the hallway to the warehouse.

I stay there, frozen, for another breath. For the first time in four years, I don’t know what to do next. I always wanted Quantum Ridge to make the harder choice: to help rather than abandon. Now I realize I’ve been doing the same thing, abandoning Quantum Ridge when there’s a chance—however small—that I could help them instead. I have no idea how, but Kate would want me to try.

I catch Doctor Fischer at closing the following Friday. “I need you to get a message to Kate in tomorrow’s shipment.”

“I thought you said your meeting didn’t go well.”

“It didn’t, but I think I know how to fix it.” I hand her a plain envelope. Inside are five pages I typed up over the last week: what happened on Beta-Three, where I went after, how I did it, and why. I’ve laid myself bare in those pages, admitting to my self-centeredness and my anger and how I let them fuel me for so long. The last page, however, is different: on that page, I dare to dream.

“Please make sure Kate reads this.”

She shrugs. “No guarantees.”

I have to wait an agonizing week until the next shipment. It turns out Alpha-Prime was so impressed with our numbers from the form I salvaged that they allocated us additional cases of Blue Cabernet, along with extra Cabernet from both Beta-One and Beta-Two, two of Quantum Ridge’s highest-rated wines. The best part is that Derek knows I’m responsible; his attitude turns deliciously ingratiating. The transformation is the only thing sustaining me through the week while I await Kate’s response—if she sends one at all.

I slip out of the tasting room at 11:49 on Saturday and linger in the break room, where I can see the shipping gate closing. The flash of light throws shadows of the barrel racks over the hallway floor. Doctor Fischer’s clicking heels follow close behind.

I can’t stand it any longer; I wait in the doorway, watching her approach, not even pretending to be doing anything else. She’s as expressionless as ever, and she doesn’t pause as she passes me.

“She’ll do it. Be ready in two weeks.”

Thank you all for joining us today, and we do hope you enjoyed this interdimensional tasting flight. Your tasting fee is waived if you join our wine club, but please note that we can’t guarantee the availability of wines from any particular dimension due to gravitational and Heisenbergian fluctuations. That said, quantum forecasting for the more distant dimensions looks promising—Eight, Nine, and possibly even Ten in Beta all show good odds of being safely accessible this season! Come back and visit Quantum Ridge soon!

I leave my nametag—now spelled with a ‘K’, and ‘manager’—on my desk. One dimension away, Kate—now Cate—is doing the same thing. Hers might not say “manager,” but she’s resolute and clever; I have no difficulty believing she’ll have Derek’s job by the end of the month, and with Matt back in her life, she’ll be glad to have it. If her plans worked out, she’s meeting him tonight at Café Pia.

It’s a beautiful Thursday evening. Jill and Richard went home at six while I stayed behind to do some paperwork and get things in order for the weekend. The additional tablet Eduardo requested for inventorying has arrived, so I set it up with the necessary software and leave it on his desk for him. I double-check that the bathrooms are stocked and ready for the next day, then stop by my office to collect my things and turn off the lights. The pile of tax paperwork I’ve spent my first week tackling is still daunting—it’s easy to see Kate hated that part of the job—but I’ve made good progress, and it’s amazing how different the place feels without a Derek lurking over my shoulder.

I lock up and walk through the sunset-shadowed gardens to my car. I’ve survived drought and totalitarianism, wildfire and workplace abuse. Everyone I’ve ever loved is a dozen dimensions behind me. I’ve fought my way here fueled by bitterness, but now, one dimension away from my destination, the bitterness is draining. Something that could be described as hope replaces it.

Maybe Kate was right that I didn’t know exactly how I was going to avenge Beta-Three, but I believe she was wrong to say they would never know the difference. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to fix Quantum Ridge yet, either, but I’m learning. I have access to Quantum Ridge’s inner workings now, plus a trail of Doctor Fischers who know the journey I’ve taken, and who will support whatever changes I manage to implement because they know their dimensions are at stake, too. With the influence I’ve gained, the respect I’ve accumulated, and the knowledge I’m gathering, I’ll not only ensure no one in any Quantum Ridge universe loses their home again, I’ll restore the ones that did. I can keep my vow and still make myself—and all my other selves—proud.

Just one dimension to go.

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