"Pardon me, Miss, but I wonder if I might trouble you for a moment with a rather odd question?"
One Jade Irepan glanced at her watch. Turning her gaze back toward the stranger who'd out of nowhere addressed her, she looked annoyed. "Well, I'm already a few minutes late for work. In such a circumstance, some would say 'I better not get any later,' while others would say, 'What's another few minutes?' Personally, I've never been sure which type of reasoning makes more sense."
"Nor have I, I assure you. And yet, this hardly answers my query."
She shrugged. "What the hell. I'm not looking forward to today, anyway. Go ahead."
He bowed his head as he said, "I am most grateful. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jerrick Harrison, although some rather annoying people I've found myself forced to associate with have chosen to stick me with the rather annoying nickname of 'Side-Eight.' I thought you should know, but I ask you to not call me that."
"Whatever you say, Mr. Harrison."
He smiled. "Delightful! Well. My question is this: Have you ever traveled between dimensions?"
"No. Have you?"
"Yes, but this is my dimension of origin. And though I have my problems with it, it's where I'd prefer to stay, mostly. Of course, mostly we do stay put, but some do like to travel."
"Me, I mean. All of me. Jerrick Harrisons from various dimensions. Well, infinite dimensions, actually."
"Why do you happen to ask if I do that?"
"Because many of you do. Jade Irepans, that is. Of course, while the Jerricks have their organization, Immortal Octopi, which includes an infinite number of us, mostly Jades keep to themselves. There are in fact small pockets of you who've met each other. One such pocket refers to itself as 'Squid Grrlz,' though no one's quite sure why. Jerricks have a natural tendency to give things strange names. Jades don't, and yet they called themselves that before they even met any of us. Anyway, there are a bit over forty of you in that group, and as far as anyone can tell, it's one of the largest such groups of Jades."
"You do realize this is all a wee bit incredible."
"So why are you telling me?"
"Background information. I may be doing some things- well, some more things, I should say. I've already done a few things they haven't caught on to quite yet.... And one can always use as many allies as one can get, unless perhaps one is simply trying to cook a pot of soup. I thought you might be interested."
"I'm not actually interested in interdimensional travel."
"Good. Neither am I; that is rather the point. I want to put an end to it, in time. Of course, what the Jades do is their own affair, as far as I'm concerned, just so long as they don't interfere with my plans. But I'm sick of Immortal Octopi. It would take a while to explain all my reasons, but suffice to say, they're doing it all wrong. They've been changing the very nature of themselves. Becoming more effective, and yet still accomplishing nothing of any real importance to anyone but themselves. ...When I say 'effective,' I mean... working on projects and finishing them. But they should be doing things alone, and different things."
"I see. So what do you want me to do about it?"
"To be honest, at this point I'm not sure. But now that I've introduced myself, I wonder if you'd mind if we met occasionally to talk?"
"I guess not. If I've got nothing better to do. Will that be all for now, then?"
"I believe so. Thank you for your time, Miss Irepan." And with that, he turned and walked away. Jade shrugged again, and continued on her way to work.
She looked up. "Be my guest, Mr. Harrison." He sat down, and as the night wasn't too awfully busy, a waitress promptly showed up to take his order. Once she'd left, Jade asked, "So, I don't suppose I'm the first person you've approached as a potential ally."
"And why did you happen to choose me, aside from the facts that we share a home dimension, and that some of me travel between dimensions?"
He shook his head. "Very little reason, aside from those facts. Although, Jades do generally seem more sensible than Jerricks. As much trouble as most of you have fitting in with normal society, you're tremendously more adept at it than are we. And I thought you might just share some of my particular sensibilities. But mostly it was the home dimension thing," he added with a slight grin.
The waitress came back with his drink, left again, and Jerrick took a drink. "Mmm. Refreshing. Well. No, I'm not quite alone in this, though I think I don't have as many allies as I might have. You have to understand infinity, of course. Half of infinity is still infinity, and so is three quarters of infinity. To put it simply, I could have an infinite number of Jerricks on my side, and still be vastly outnumbered."
"Do you have an infinite number of Jerricks on your side?"
"No. I couldn't say how many I do have. But as a bit of history, after recruiting over six hundred Jerricks himself, Jerrick 1 and Jerrick 637 started a program of newly recruited Jerricks themselves recruiting others. Therefore, recruitment continued exponentially, until five years after the program began, all living Jerricks had been recruited into Immortal Octopi- a name devised by Jerrick 591 before his death, which came before Jerrick 1 could contact him. Of course, in addition to an infinite number of Jerricks, we also have an infinite catalog of Jerricks who died before they could be contacted, and since."
"How did he hear a name one of you came up with if he died before he met him?"
"He talked to someone in that dimension who had met him."
"And by the way, why do they call you 'Side-Eight?'"
"Symbol for infinity, if you've seen it...?"
"Oh, yes. Hmmm."
"Well, I was the very last Jerrick recruited into Immortal Octopi. They made rather a big deal about that when they approached me, and so, knowing they already had practically a 100% infinity of me's, I didn't quite feel secure in saying I wasn't interested in joining.
"Of course, I was infinitely far from being the first Jerrick it was realistically impossible to assign a real number to. So, after an infinite number of exponential equations in our names, such as my friend Jerrick 5.7x10 to the 16 googolplexth power plus 7 duodecillion and 3, they just chucked the whole thing and started making up nicknames and such. While I've already said, in effect, that the very concept of infinity is, um... well, let's just say a matter for Smackematicians such as Jerrick 45. Since it's... an incomprehensible, unrealistic pile of rubbish- I say, I could've just said that, couldn't I?- well, it's all only symbolic, anyway. So the idea of anyone being the last of an infinite number of recruits doesn't mean too much. In fact, it doesn't mean anything. But by that point, they were almost chemically dependent on certain types of symbolism, and hence, my nickname. I am, in their eyes, infinity personified.
"And do you know what the really, really terribly funny thing is? Do you?"
"While they never paid the slightest hint of attention to the actual quantum signatures that distinguish each universe, and just went about essentially randomly, I did look into it myself. They may have the numbers stored in computer memories, for purposes of finding each actual dimension they might actually be trying to get to, but they do not correspond to the number in the Jerricks' names, they aren't even in order. There's absolutely no pattern to it whatever. No one actually knows the actual quantum signatures of any universe, not even their own. They just don't care. But do you know what ours is, yours and mine? Do you?"
Jade sighed, and had another sip of her drink. "No. What?"
"Zero. Or anyway, as close to zero as technically possible. If one were going to start counting universes in any kind of scientific manner, ours would be the very first, the one to start with."
"I guess that is kinda funny. Ironic, or something."
"I often ask myself, what would be more ironic- if, on top of that, Jerrick 1's home universe were the very last, in terms of quantum signature; or, if its signature was completely indistinguishable, unremarkable. Nothing special at all."
"I could see a case either way, yeah. Except of course, being unremarkable and random would seem more in keeping with the randomness of the rest of it. I wonder if there's any significance to your own little irony, or if even that is purely coincidence. But I don't wonder too hard, 'cause there's no answer to be found, surely, and it would only end up driving one mad. Anyway, what is his dimension's signature?"
"Something like 16 trillion, 982 billion, 003 million, and 12."
"I leave open the possibility that I may misremember something."
"Anyway, fairly low number, infinity-wise."
"Quite." He finished off his drink. "Maybe we can continue this another time."
"Whatever you like. I still don't see what you'd like me to do."
"I still don't, either, beyond allowing me the pleasure of your company, perhaps using you as a sounding board. Maybe sometime one of us will think of something more."
Jerrick pulled out his wallet, dropped a twenty on the table, and stood up. "Good evening, Ms. Irepan."
"Good evening, Mr. Harrison," she said, still sitting. Jerrick tipped his hat to her, and left.