Resigned to her interest despite her incredulity, Lyssa watched as Ji crossed to a cabinet near the empty bed with the strange oblong ring above it. He opened a couple of drawers, apparently unfamiliar with the room’s setup, before turning back holding a long, thin box not unlike the kind used to deliver roses. He offered it to her, but she instinctively put her hands behind her back. “What is it?”
“Mesh,” Ji said, moving to place the box on the counter beside her. He removed the lid, and she leaned closer despite her trepidation. A delicate material lay folded inside, its mottled gray color unremarkable and unexpectedly bland.
She hadn’t been sure what to expect, but it wouldn’t have been something so benign. “This is the stuff? The living tissue?”
“It doesn’t look living.”
“It’s not really. Not in the way that we’d call living anyway. It’s purely synthetic and non-sentient, but it’s designed to behave much like skin, and it’s grown just like human tissue. It also reacts to stimuli. Touch it.”
She looked at him, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
He merely nodded toward the material. “Go on. It’s perfectly safe. Just be careful not to tear it. I wouldn’t call it fragile, exactly, but it is… delicate.”
Lyssa reached out a hesitant hand and brushed her fingertips over the surface. The gray brightened to a near silver where her skin touched and spread out over the surface of the mesh like ripples in a pond. “Wow,” she breathed, pressing her palm to it this time and watching the entire surface warm to the color of brushed nickel. The mesh felt smooth and cool like a silk scarf, and as she lifted an edge, she found it as thin as gossamer. The colors shifted as she pulled out a length, letting it fall through her fingers as it shimmered and pooled onto the counter. “It’s not what I expected.” She looked up to find Ji watching her, his expression shuttered. “Why does it turn silver?”
“It responds to movement, pressure, temperature, or some combination of the three. It’s a failsafe. Whatever is moved between worlds must be covered completely by the mesh, or it won’t transfer fully. When the mesh touches end to end, it knows to create a field within its boundaries, and while it does have a kind of aura effect that extends beyond it, it’s only a distance of half an inch or so. Anything beyond that gets left behind.”
She stared at him. “So if your hand isn’t completely covered?”
He grimaced. “You transfer into the world missing a hand.”
With a shudder, she folded the mesh back into the box.
“When a full seal is created, the mesh turns completely silver. Fewer hands are lost that way.”
“There has to be more to it,” she said as she closed the box. “You can’t just wrap yourself in a blanket and pop into the next dimension.”
“The mesh works with the halo circuit,” he said, pointing at the ring of white above the bed, “and with the echo chamber.”
“This room is an echo chamber. As is the one my colleague is occupying. The walls, ceiling, and floor must be imbedded with a special configuration of materials and mechanisms that allows it to concentrate the push and pull of the mesh and the halo circuit. To use your analogy of the radio station, the mesh is the radio, the halo circuit is the antennae, and the echo chamber is the tuner. It’s all controlled here.” He waved a hand at the clear glass screen above the counter, the one that she had turned on earlier.
“Okay. So you wrap yourself up like a human burrito, lie down under a plastic ring, and then push a couple buttons, and you’re bouncing around worlds studying people.” With her arms now crossed and her eyebrows raised, her skepticism would have been obvious even if she’d said nothing.
“Did I not make it clear that it’s not that simple?”
“Show me.” She cocked her head, a challenge in her eyes.