"This," said Jerrick 637 when everybody was seated, "is, or should I say these are, Jerrick 13, best known for his work in interdimensional communications technologies; and Jerrick 45, best known for his mathematical theories which fall under the heading of 'Chepookish Specific-Abstract Mathematics,' what we call for short 'Smack.'"
"Ah," said the first-met Jade.
"There is a great deal which would probably not be possible without the work of Jerricks like these."
"Well, Smack would I'm sure still work even if nobody knew it was working," demurred Jerrick 45.
"Still, understanding the nature of such things makes it all seem even crazier and less understandable, which is generally nice. Such a lovely woman you all are. And you are?"
"Well," said the original Jade, "we're all just Jade Irepan, no numbers or anything. Um, how to distinguish ourselves for you? If you need such a thing? That's the Jade from this dimension. I'm from another one, and so's she," she said, indicating the third Jade at the table. "Not the same other one, of course."
"Did any of the three of you develop ID-travel yourselves?" asked Jerrick 13.
"Of course," said Jade. "We all did. I mean, all Jades, at least all the Jades we know of. Independently. Probably there are small pockets of Jades who've met each other, but I shouldn't think more than a few dozen per group, and probably less. Of course, I don't know. I only know of the ones I know of, who are the... what?... well, I expect number in the low 40's, who I know personally. And most of them I've only met once or twice. We tend to like smaller groups, and I think those of me we don't know would be the same.
"What was I going to say? Oh, yes. Perhaps for the purposes of this conversation, you can call me Jade 1, and her Jade 2, and her Jade 3. If you want to."
"All Jades developed ID-travel?" said Jerrick 637. "How remarkable! And you said you don't all have projects!"
"Well, other than that. Hmmm, other than that, we mostly do what we can to get by. Anyway, Traveling just came so very naturally, like learning to ride a bike...."
"Didn't you have to study quantum physics or anything like that?"
She shook her head. "No. To be honest, I don't completely understand how it works. I've some vague notions about subatomic fluctuations, but I don't really think about it. Do you?" she asked, turning to her friends.
They shook their heads, as well. "Not quite like riding a bike, actually," said Jade 3. "More like... mmm... falling off a log in the instant before you step onto it and after you step off the other side." She wrinkled her nose. "Although, those should be two separate moments, neither of which should afford the possibility of falling off, and separated by an indeterminate number of unexperienced moments which do offer such a possibility."
"And that," said Jerrick 45, nodding slightly and smiling, "is a prime example of Smack, or Smaph, or Smackph."
"What's 'Smaph'?" asked Jerrick 637. "Oh, no wait, I see. Chepookish Specific-Abstract Physics, yes?"
"Yes, a new field I've been working on, inextricably interrelated to Smack, of course."
"I don't know if you need to say 'Smackph," put in Jerrick 13. "Shouldn't the 'm' and 'ph' in 'Smaph' suffice to suggest both fields?"
"Yes, probably you're right. Although without the 'ck,' 'chepookish' isn't represented, nor 'physics' in 'Smack' without the 'ph.'"
"Anyway," said Jade 1, "Traveling is more like philosophy than science, isn't it? I mean, we don't particularly use any technology for it. We just do it."
"Which is probably one reason, albeit a secondary one at best, why your groups are so small," said Jerrick 13. "There are of course an infinite number of dimensions, but they all branch out from the first four, which are sort of mushed together at the hub of a hypersphere (and yet extend also, in their mushy way, throughout all other dimensions). Now of course we all automatically move through the basic four, but it's faster to use technology to do so. We might spend a day walking around town, but to go to another town or the other side of the world, we'd prefer a car or plane or something. Not that we couldn't get there on our own, but it'd be harder and take longer. And this is not even to touch on time travel, beyond the normal fixed velocity.
"Of course, using interdimensional travel, even unaided, will allow you to travel anywhere in the first three or four dimensions even more quickly than a jet, so that you don't have to just appear at the same point in another dimension as you left from in the dimension you just left. Even so, every dimension, fifth and up, has its more or less fixed hyperspherical coordinates, as it were, and some are closer to you than others. 'Just doing it,' well, one dimension might be less than a metaphorical block from the next, but some might as well be lightyears distant. You can't just walk that. We'd never have completed recruitment of all Jerricks without the aid of ID-travel technology.
"By the by," he said, bending to his side to reach into a bag and bring out some fairly normal-looking expansion cards, which he pushed across the table to the Jades, "here're some plug-ins for your computers that'll let you access our ID-Net."
Just then, a waitress walked up to the booth, carrying a tray. "Here are your drinks," she said, placing the six glasses on the table. "Sorry about the wait, kind of busy tonight. Pumpkin ale, shandy, two raspberry ciders, peach cider, and a Guinness. Triplets, are you?"
"Something like that," said Jade 2. "I'll have a peach cider."
"Raspberry cider," said Jade 1.
"Guinness," said Jade 3.
"And a raspberry cider for me," said Jerrick 637.
"Shandy- that's with Sprite, right?" said Jerrick 13.
"Mmm-hmmm," said the waitress absently, busy writing down the orders.
"I guess I'll have a pumpkin ale," said Jerrick 45.
"Okay. I'll be back with your..." She trailed off, and frowned. "Um... anyway... yeah." She looked confused, shook her head, turned, and walked away.
Jerrick 45 grinned. "Smack trick. One thing kinda fun, and dovetails nicely with Jerrick 637's own work, in a way. Altered causality. Getting drinks before ordering them. Fun to play with people's heads, sometimes. She won't remember it this way, of course." He picked up his glass and took a sip of his ale.
"Speaking of which," said Jade 1, "I had a question for you. About how you Jerricks can be different ages at the same time, apparently without even time-traveling. Aside from the initial recruitment."
"Ah, yes, that. Um, I hope Jerrick tossed in the word 'vagaries'?"
"Good, good. Well, anything that might be considered 'vagaries' in this kind of... whatever... I sort of put under the heading of 'don't ask, don't tell.' That is, I could tell you, but... it's some of the more complicated Smack equations, would take so long to explain you'd be bored to death if you could even manage to avoid getting hopelessly lost, weeks before I finished the explanation. In fact to avoid wasting lifespan, we'd probably want to go into a null-D sort of static bubble reality thing for the duration of the explanation. We wouldn't age, but just being there would be tedious. Personally, I'd rather age outside in the real Multiverse than live forever in a bubble."
"I'll take your word for it, then. It just doesn't matter. ...I don't suppose it's as simple as people spending time in such bubbles that differentiates their ages?"
"No, not at all. Well, not much. Because so few people ever do."
"And yet, if you can create such bubbles, might some variation on that work be experimented with to extend lifespans without having to enter them? Say, put miniature bubbles in you instead of you in them, or something?"
"Sounds perfectly reasonable to me," said Jerrick 45. "Perhaps I'll look into it, although I don't think many of us want to live forever, if any. I know I don't. Still, still, a few hundred years, maybe, or a few thousand. Not experienced constantly, of course. I'd want to take breaks of consciousness after a while."
"Tell me," said Jerrick 637, "might there be any other things you just do, without making projects of them, that might be the sort of things that... y'know?"
"Maybe," said Jade 1. "It's kinda hard to say."
"I learn different languages," said Jade 3.
"Oh, we all like to try to learn a few languages," said Jade 1. "And travel around the world in our own dimensions of origin, as well as Traveling."
"And I think most of us do our little artistic projects of various sorts, from time to time," said Jade 2. "And gardening."
"And working on homepages," said Jade 1. "Normal things. Things anyone can do. As for projects you guys might call 'chepookish' or whatever...." she trailed off and shrugged.
Putting down her glass, Jade 3 said, "Of course, we don't know everything about each other, even the ones of us we're closest to. In fact, we probably don't know everything about ourselves. ...I considered trying to get a tiger to change its spots, once, but didn't end up trying, for two reasons. One, I like tigers how they are, and two, tigers don't have spots."
"Leopards do," said Jerrick 637. "Yes. The thing about that is, that's how normal people think. But your idea would've made perfect sense to a Jerrick. We'd do something like that, despite the fact that it's utter nonsense, or more aptly, because of it. ...Of course, it isn't exactly in our nature to even recognize that something is nonsense. But after talking with enough normal people, some of us can get our minds to work a bit more... straightforward like, instead of sideways or whatever. Or if not to work that way, to recognize theirs doing so, even predict how their minds will work on a given subject. If for no other reason, simply to try and figure people out. I don't know how many of us do that, but it was one of my projects for a while. After all, when one time travels, one needs to learn to understand unfamiliar cultures.
"Anyway, a tiger changing its spots, that sort of thing would seem entirely obvious and natural to us. Actually, I think I understand myselves better by understanding normal people. I can look at myself through their eyes through my eyes, as well as looking at them through their eyes through my eyes. Or something like that. Anything else?"
"I'll have some fish and chips," said Jerrick 13.
This was when Jerrick 637 first noticed that the waitress had returned. "Me too," he said. In fact, all six of them ordered fish and chips, and some of them ordered new drinks, too.
"By the way," said Jerrick 45, "I really like you girls. I think no one in any world could have more in common than Jerricks and Jades, yeah?"
All six members of the party agreed.
"...And yet," added Jerrick 45, a bit wistfully....
"And yet, I don't think we feel anything for each other," said Jade 1. "How odd, that people who are unarguably perfect for each other... shouldn't be right for each other."
"Actually," said Jerrick 637, "as you know, as PCD of Immortal Octopi, I hear about just about anything of any interest that any Jerricks work on. And as it happens, Jerrick... um, I think 7 billion something... has been studying certain geometric and algebraic equations as they relate to love. Probably you'd like to talk with him about that, Jerrick," he said to 45. "Anyway, I think his preliminary findings suggest some interesting things, although he hasn't got all the problems worked out, doesn't fully understand it yet.
"His first main premise, however, is this: that the odder you are, and the less you have in common with the majority of people... well, clearly, the less people you'll have much in common with, and the less friends you'll have. Secondly, it follows that if everyone has a certain number of people in the world they could potentially fall in love with, well, the odder you are, the less people who will be potentially right for you. Thirdly, the less friends or potential significant others you might have, the stronger and truer and deeper such relationships will be if you are lucky enough to find them. In a side note he says such people will likely seem very detached and unemotional, disinterested in people generally, in fact bored to death of most people; and yet, the more intensely your emotions and passions will run when mixed with the right people. Kind of like mixing one inert, boring, harmless element with its antimatter counterpart. In a side side note, he says though that you still might not appear very emotional with the right person, but meanwhile inside, how you feel... it won't make any sense to you that your heart hasn't exploded, and you almost wish it would.
"Now of course, he doesn't think much of anyone could be odder than a Jerrick, or have less chance of making friends, less people who would even be potential friends. And the odds against finding anyone right to be more than friends for one of us would be more than astronomical; more like interdimensional. Maybe even more than that. And yet, if we did meet the right person, there's a good chance that for someone like us, it truly would be the one right person in the Multiverse. And we would love that person more than any human has ever loved anyone or anything. And maybe our hearts would explode."
"All this seems perfectly straightforward to me," said Jerrick 45. "So what's the problem?"
"The problem, at least the main one, is that some of his numbers suggest that either that would be the case, or its exact opposite would be. That if there is only one absolutely perfect person for you in existence, and you could never have any real interest in being with anybody else... your feelings would be inversely proportionate to the perfection of the match. That you'd feel nothing."
"Maybe it's like a pair of magnets," suggested Jade 1. "On one side, they'd be strongly attracted to each other, but that's just not the way they're facing, so they're repelled."
Jerrick 637 frowned. "Are you repelled by me? By us?"
She looked away and fidgeted. "Well... I like you guys, or at least you're more interesting to me than most other people are. I don't have anything really against you. I think you're fairly attractive, in a way, even if most of you are probably a couple-few decades older than we are. I think we have so much in common and my logic tells me Jerricks and Jades should all be great friends and possibly colleagues, if not more.
"...If I say 'repelled,' I don't mean I dislike you at all, and yet there's something in me that makes no sense, something I hate, something I have to fight- not constantly, but some of the time- something that says we shouldn't be friends. Like as if Jerricks and Jades were matter and antimatter to each other. And not in a good, explosively passionate way like your earlier metaphor. Maybe it's more like someone with lactose intolerance who loves dairy products. I dunno. I don't understand it and it's weird and I try to pay it no mind. I hate it. And I'm sorry." She looked to the other Jades. "Do you guys feel anything like that?"
They seemed uncomfortable about it, but admitted that it was so. Jade 1 asked the Jerricks if they felt it, themselves.
"I... perhaps an inkling," said 637. "But as you say, it doesn't make sense, and anyway, it's barely noticeable. It's easy to ignore. I don't like it, but it's not at all intense. Not as intense as the logic that tells me I have every reason to like you. I like everything you've said so far about yourselves. I want desperately for us to get to know more about each others to be friends."
The other two Jerricks nodded their agreement.
"Well," said Jade 1, "I guess we'll try. I mean, I want that, too. But I wouldn't be surprised if I changed my mind someday. If I just stopped feeling anything positive. If I do, if any of us do, please accept our apologies in advance, because I don't think we'd be in a position then to offer one. We just wouldn't care."
"Apology certainly accepted, but I hope like hell it never comes to that. Still, this dovetails with 7 billion-whatever's theorems and all. Shame, that is. All part of the Multiverse being completely unreasonable. Odd, a being as loving as God would create something as hellish as that, assuming we're not all of us in Hell already, and just don't realize. But there's too much good stuff, too."
"Six orders of fish and chips," said the waitress, setting the plates before them. "Enjoy!" And she left again.
Jerrick 637 looked up to the ceiling and said, "Right on cue, Chief!" And with a grin, he poured on the imported malt vinegar and dug in.
Looking up from her own plate, Jade 3 said, "Maybe it just means that of all the infinite Jades and Jerricks, we each have to find exactly the right one."
"Anyone wanna hunt through some needle factories, see if some careless employee at one of them has left a haystack lying around?" asked Jade 2.
But at the moment, everyone seemed more intent on enjoying their food and drinks. At the same time, however, the Jerricks each thought about just how much they liked the Jades, might perhaps soon say loved- or not- and cursed the fact that they would only love them as friends. Still, maybe Jade 3 was right.
Meanwhile, the fish was damned tasty, and the drinks endlessly relaxing. Even the Jades didn't feel at all repelled for the rest of the night.