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Alan Burnham.

You get all sorts coming into a reference library. The clever ones, the cranky ones, and all too often the weird ones. Libraries seem to attract the least attractive types, especially the male specimens; what's really annoying is that so many of the nerds seem to think that all female librarians are frustrated old maids hiding from real life. That I'm twenty years old, two metres tall and a state swimming champion doesn't seem to alter their preconceptions at all.

It was a Friday afternoon, the sunlight sparkled on the fountains outside the Alexander Library building and all was right with the world. From the westernmost window of the top floor I could look down on the roofs of three different pubs, a strip tease joint and the backyard carpark of a brothel -- business seemed to be good. One of our resident researchers once said that Perth was a very civilised city because he could go from Aristotle to harlots without even losing his train of thought. In his case I'm not sure it would have made much difference to his performance anyway. My own interest was in one of the pubs on King William Street, where I had a heavy date scheduled that night.

So, only an hour of work left, an hour's training in the pool, get changed and then a night out on the town for a rage up -- great! Then Eddie Rosenbaum walked in to spoil it. He's the weirdest of all the weirdies we get, a guy who causes me a lot of problems. Well OK, he's not weird in the way of being a brick short of a barbecue. He's doing a master's in physics at the University of Western Australia and when he sent the results of his IQ test to MENSA they wrote back and said they didn't take smart-arses. Truth to tell he's got enough spare bricks to build his own temple and enough ego to dedicate it to himself. Right up himself is Eddie Rosenbaum and the only things he's got going for him are that he's a handsome hunk and that everybody seems to think he's a full blown genius. Oh yes, and his father's a millionaire. But take away his looks, his muscles, his brains and his money and he wouldn't have much left. His sense of humour I could certainly do without.

"Hello, beautiful. Get this lot together and wheel them out, as fast as you can. I've got a hot idea I want to check out."

I picked up the printout he'd dropped on my desk: a list of book titles certain to grab anybody's interest. The first one was "SCHRODINGER'S CAT PARADOX: A CLASSICAL APPRECIATION".

"Wrong place, Eddie, this is physical sciences. Zoology is two floors down."

"Ah, Lizzie, it's a fine strapping girl you are. Thank God you were spared the trouble of brains and it's a wonderful wife you'll be making for some lucky son of Erin."

"Don't call me Lizzie, my name is Elizabeth. And what's so important about some damned cat?"

Eddie sighed and went into his Con the Fruiter routine.

"Looka, Miss Brown, just for you, I tella da truth. I taka da cat, I put ina da box. I putta in da geiger counter and da poison and da radioactivity. Maybe da detector picka up a decaying atom and killa da cat widda da poison, or maybe it don't and da cat lives -- bewdiful!"

Then he leaned forward and drawled: "But nobody knows whether old Brer cat done cashed in his chips 'til they open the box. 'Til somebody take a look, old Brer cat ain't exactly dead and he ain't exactly alive neither. Old brer cat, he's a quantum state just setting and waiting to collapse."

"Putting a cat in a box -- that's cruel."

"Bloody hell, girl, it's a mental experiment, like Einstein riding on a ray of light. Nobody actually does it. It's just a way of trying to understand the paradoxes of quantum mechanics."

It seemed as if I was finally starting to annoy him as much as he was needling me.

"Is that anything like 'Popular Mechanics'?"

At least he got serious enough to quit his funny voices.

"Quantum mechanics underlies all the physical forces except gravitation and probably that too if we could only understand how. Without quantum mechanics there'd be no lasers, no computers, no transistors. But what's so bloody frustrating is that all we're doing is applying cookbook recipes to the electronic problems. We still don't know what electrons are actually doing inside atoms. It's like pushing buttons and seeing lights coming on without understanding what the connection is: it's monkey-see, monkey-do physics. But I'm smarter than any monkey."

"Talking of monkeys, Eddie, I've got a date at the Brass Monkey tonight and I'm not going to be late. It's forty five minutes to closing time and then you're out of here, understand!"

"Oh God, she's going hit me, the big bully. Not the whip, Lizzie, please, not the whip again!"

I told him to shut up and began on his list, piling the books up on a cart and pushing them over to the table where he'd set up his laptop. As fast as I stacked the books up around him he flicked through them at incredible speed, pausing only to type some kind of formula up onto the screen.

"Many worlds, many worlds, it has to be many worlds."

"Great words but you'll need a snappy tune to go with them."

"Listen, you potential dummy mummy, the only way quantum mechanics can work is by not having any outside observers, otherwise the quantum state collapses every time we check on whether the cat is still breathing. So if the quantum state can't collapse it must contain all the possibilities."

"Beg yours?"

He kept on keying the laptop: "A quantum state can only be a valid representation if it contains everything which could possibly ever happen. The fact that our experience only shows one outcome to every event is merely a sensory simplification -- and this formula will prove it."

"For this nonsense I'm getting aching feet?"

"Elizabeth, don't you get it? Everything happens, everything you could possibly think of and a lot that you can't. There's a reality where this place collapsed this morning because of metal fatigue in the support girders, there's a reality where there's no such thing as grass, there's a reality where Bill Gates is making a living as a street busker. Why, there's a reality somewhere where you throw yourself on tip of this table and beg me to make love to you."

I took two swift steps back and hefted the heavy book in my hand, ready to clout him if this reality looked as if it was going to require it.

"You understand, Liz? One cat can't be both dead and alive. For that you need two cats, minimum."

Like I've said before, libraries attract weirdos like cowpats attract flies. I looked out at the sinking sun and wished it would hurry up so that I could throw Eddie back into the normal world. Maybe he didn't belong there but I did.

"Do you need anything else?"

"Not if this program runs, I don't."

He pressed a key on the laptop. Strange symbols chased themselves across the screen, then stopped. Eddie scratched the back of his head and a metre wide circle of books and shelving just to the left of us dissolved in a white fireball. I fell on top of Eddie, wind gushed in through a hole where part of the outside wall had somehow disappeared and a figure loomed up in the cloud of swirling ashes. It stopped and seemed to be looking at us in surprise. A woman in an indecently skin tight black uniform with a kind of round dark helmet on, a wide belt with blue containers all around it and holding something in her right hand which looked a lot like a pistol. Then she slapped her other hand against a panel underneath her prominent bust and the helmet split apart in segments like an orange, the segments then somehow sliding down around her throat and rolling up into a shiny aluminium collar.

The face that was revealed was barely fringed by close cropped blonde hair and spoilt by a puckered scar across one cheek. But the really outstanding item of interest was that, apart from the scar, the girl's face was identical to my own.

"Oh God!" I gasped.

The girl said something as well. In a harsh barking tone speaking. . . well, whatever language it was. She sounded like a Singapore taxi driver who'd just copped a speeding ticket.

"I bet she's saying something interesting," Eddie mused aloud, quite calmly. "I wonder what it is?"

He got up and walked towards her, holding his hands up in a non-threatening way. The girl took one step forward, swivelled on one heel of a high cut black boot and slammed the other one into his stomach with all the aplomb of Jackie Chan. Eddie flew back against the bookshelf and slid down into a sitting position on the floor. The look on his face was one I'd normally have relished beyond belief. Unfortunately I had other things on my mind: a wrecked library and a mad woman who was my double and als happened dressed up like an extra from a 1950's episode of 'Flash Gordon'.

The girl stared at me, then stepped over to the table and looked down at the laptop's screen. Then there was another outburst of a language that sounded as if it were written in hieroglyphics.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand you," I stammered.

We kept looking at each other. Everything else was strange enough, but to see your own face and to somehow know that it had lived a different life from yours -- well, that was really uncanny.

She was hard this one, much harder than me. I could see that at once, looking older and lines of strain on her face where mine was still unmarked. Our bodies seemed to be identical, as much as I could judge. Then I changed my mind as she grabbed Eddie's shirt and hauled him to his feet with one hand. Maybe I could have been able to do that in a real emergency, but I didn't think so. What I was sure of was that she wasn't jamming her pistol gizmo underneath his chin because it was an electric razor.

"No, no," I bleated, tugging at her elbow.

It seemed for a second she was going to hit me as well. But I suppose it seemed wrong for her to hit herself, if you see what I mean. On her sleeve was a big coloured patch insignia. It showed a pole with several horse tails hanging from it -- that's what they looked like, anyway. Underneath the badge were four arrows, laid horizontally, with the sharp ends pointing forward. They were stacked one above the other like sergeant's stripes. She smelt too, a kind of bitter-sweet milky smell, not unpleasant but odd. Anyway, she hesitated as I kept talking.

"Friends, friends, friends!" I kept on saying it over and over.

Finally, she stepped back a pace and released Eddie.

"Are you alright?" His eyes were glazed over as if he was still in deep shock.

"The Nobel prize for physics and the Hollywood film rights. I've got to make sure of the film rights."

"For Christ's sake, Eddie, what's going on?"

The girl was staring at me, her forehead furrowed. "By Christ's wounds," she said slowly, as if trying to extract some fragment deeply buried in her memory. "By Christ's wounds and his apostles twelve."

It was very lucky for the first security guard who came running in that she was distracted as he appeared. She whirled around, lifted her pistol, I grabbed her arm and the guard dived flat behind my desk. Another of those white explosions and another section of wall had been turned into brick dust. The guard began shouting in fear and the girl was sidestepping the red dust cloud to stalk him until I got in front of her, trying to block her with my body and arms like a basketball player and screaming out at the top of my voice.

"Friends, friends, you trigger-happy bitch!"

"Can we get out of here?" Eddie seemed unaffected by everything that was going on. His folded laptop underneath his arm. "I don't want her talking to anybody until I've got her under contract."

He winced and rubbed the middle of his stomach as if he was looking for some sympathy for his soreness. I nearly went off my brain.

"Under contract! Under contract! You want a contract, you can have a contract to fix up this fucking library!"

"My dad'll pay for that, so let's go."

On second thoughts it was the most sensible suggestion I'd heard all day. I turned and ran towards the fire escape and I didn't intend to stop until I got to the library car park and my Nissan. What changed my mind was that by the time I got to ground level Liz2 was still
neck and neck with me and she still had that damned laser or whatever it was ready to use. If we came racing out onto the pavement with her hyped up she was quite capable of blowing half a dozen bystanders away just for openers. So I grabbed the bar which unlocked the door and hung onto it as Eddie leaned against the wall and gasped for breath. My twin wouldn't let go of her weapon so I was able to baulk her for the moment, even though she lifted the pistol up and was clearly considering whether to burn the door down and me with it.

"Friend, friend, by Christ's wounds and his apostles twelve," I recited loudly, hoping it would restrain her blood lust. She was certainly puzzled.

"English. . . English". She pointed at me. "Maid, maid." Then she looked at Eddie. "Knight -- English knight."

Eddie opened his mouth to protest, then shut it tightly. The girl touched herself at the throat. "English maid."

Eddie forced out a grunt of laughter: "A maid, hey? More like a bloody task force."

"How can she say she's English when she can't even speak English?"

"There's plenty of Welsh who can't speak Welsh. But what sort of reality does she come from? A Chinese speaking Caucasian who comes on like Rambo and speaks a few fragments of old English like a medieval nun -- and carrying a star wars laser and wearing some kind of an
environmental suit. What kind of a world were you born into, Lizzie, to turn out like this?"


"Of course you. Look at her, she is you. So somehow, whatever I did turned a quantum state vector in Hilbert space, then collapsed that particular probability wave in our real time. But why you? Everybody knows that quantum state measurements are affected by the observer. So that must have been the role you played. You observed and you saw -- yourself. And then there were two librarians."

It was an interesting point for discussion, interrupted by the sound of heavy boots clumping overhead. Liz2 growled and lifted up her pistol with the clear intention of doing something terminal about the people following us down the fire stairs.

"She's no librarian, mate, and I'm getting out of here," I said. But at least I took a cautious look out of the door first, with Eddie peering over my shoulder.

Francis Street was echoing with sirens from fire trucks pushing through the snarled up traffic. Eddie gave a whoop of joy. "Firemen! People will think she's one of the fire brigade in a heat resistant suit."

"You moron, I'll be the one needing a heat resistant suit if she pulls that trigger. And in case you haven't noticed, she's practically naked! A fireman?"

"It's all equality in jobs now, Liz and I have noticed her body. It's just that I never realised before how much of you there really is. How can you swim so fast with all that built in drag?"

Before I could think of anything rude enough to use as an answer a harsh voice came booming down the stairwell: "This is the police. Surrender now or you'll be in big trouble."

It was time to make a run for it, and I was hoping there were no media people around yet. The last thing I needed was a photograph in the press of two Elizabeth Browns together. The sporting public of Western Australia would be intrigued to find that one of their Olympic Team hopefuls had a previously unknown twin sister. That would be a real surprise -- especially to my mother.

I tried to make a dumb show of getting my doppelganger to put her pistol out of sight. At least she complied to the extent of freeing her hands by pressing the laser against a magnetic plate on her belt. Then we slipped out of the door.

The first thing I saw was that there was no way of crossing the intersection without attracting attention. The traffic had stopped dead and people were standing besides their cars to look up at the hole in the top floor of the building. Apparently the local radio stations had got hold of a story about a light plane crashing into the library. I suppose it was as good a guess as any. I didn't know about it of course, all I knew was that somebody nearby was yelling at us to stop.

Being in the lead, I turned left down King William street, running as fast as I could. We dodged through a group of firefighters, leaping over the hoses they were unrolling. A string of startled oaths came from behind me as Liz2 knocked the burly men aside as if she was carrying a rugby ball into touch. I cut through between two of the fire trucks and kept moving. One more block and we'd be at the carpark where my car was. Only it wasn't that easy because a bunch of police were on the pavement ahead, holding back a gathering crowd. The cops still had their backs to us but one of them was bound to turn around any second.

I paused in indecision, Eddie grabbed my arm and pulled me into an alleyway, beckoning Liz2 to come with us. She barely hesitated before ducking out of sight in the alley.

"Maybe we can slip away down here," Eddie gasped. "Got to be quick though. My stomach still hurts like bloody hell from where this crazy bitch kicked me."

"I hope it keeps on hurting. Listen, I've just had this great idea. I think I'll go back out onto the street, walk calmly down to the car park, get in my car, bugger off home and forget I ever saw you or wonder woman. How does that sound?"

"I need you here, Liz. This other one seems to trust you a little bit. I need you to keep her under control until we sort things out. Otherwise she might go berserk with that laser pistol."

"That's your problem. You brought her here, you send her back. Why do I have to be involved?"

He gripped my arm, his eyes glittering: "For the money, you idiot. This is the most important scientific breakthrough ever, the greatest thing that's ever happened to the human race, the biggest media story in history. We can be richer than anybody has ever been -- but I'm not telling anybody a damned thing until Dad's lawyers have got you and your Chinese copy here under watertight contracts."

"I could get rich out of this?"

"Liz, sweetie, anything you want, anything at all."

"You've talked me into it. Maybe we can get out at the other end of the alley."

Liz2 had been watching us, one hand back on her pistol, her face watchful.

"Have you noticed those arrows. Seen the rockets on them?"


He was pointing the four arrows on Liz2's arm. Now he mentioned it, there did seem to be some kind of extra round lengths attached to the shafts halfway down their length, and the fins did seem proportionally too large.

"Chinese rocket arrows I'll bet. The sort the Chinese were using a thousand years ago. Some kind of symbolic badge. The Grenadier Guards in Britain have a regimental badge based on the type of grenade they used in the Napoleonic wars. Same sort of idea."

He made a gesture with his hand, shooting it up into the air with his other hand held flat to indicate the ground. Liz2 nodded and pointed up into the air, then made a fist of one hand and whirled a finger around it.

"In orbit. She's telling us she had to do with something in orbit -- around the earth, I suppose. Christ, I'd give my nuts to find somebody who could talk to her."

"If we stay here we'll all be talking to the cops," I reminded him. Ten seconds and already I was frightened of losing all that money for my dream house in Peppermint Grove.

"OK, let's go."

Again I led the way. To nowhere. The alley ended in a cul de sac between three walls. One the right and the left were doors -- both locked. Liz2 pushed me aside with her usual social charm, fiddled for a second with the muzzle of the pistol and aimed it at the door on the right. Ashes and smoke spurted out soundlessly from the area where the lock had been, metal and wood apparently reduced to glowing embers with equal ease.

"Gee, that's a neat gadget," Eddie said. "How does it do that?"

My alter ego raised her leg and lashed out with a boot, sending the door flying open. Then she dived into the building like the lead member of a SWAT team.

Eddie looked uneasily at me: "You want to know something, Liz? I've been wanting to ask you for a date for a while but there was always something about you which made me a touch nervous. Now I know why."

"She's nothing to do with me!"

"I'm sorry, Liz, but that's not true, is it? You were obviously born to be a Imperial stormtrooper instead of a librarian."

There was a lot I wanted to say to him but I never got the chance because all hell seemed to be erupting inside the building. We took one look at each other and rushed in before murder was done. On the other side of the doorway was a curtained off space with dim red light seeping through the heavy drapes. When I went through them I found myself trying to manoeuvre past lots of small tables in a crowded room where the only bright lighting was over a small stage. Standing on the stage was a short and very fair skinned girl with lots of freckles -- I could see she had lots of freckles because all she was wearing was a black suspender belt and matching panties. Oh, and her stockings, because she was making a big performance of bending forward as she peeled one of them off. She'd clearly been the center of attention before our arrival.

Before Liz2's arrival, anyway. Whilst Eddie and I just kept on tripping over unseen legs and saying "Sorry, sorry" my other half was simply kicking anybody whom got in her way and sounding off like an undubbed Hong Kong martial arts movie. All this from a tall and superbly proportioned girl in a skin tight black uniform which looked as if it had been sprayed onto her naked body. By the time we got to the middle of the room the stripper could have gone for a coffee break for all the attention she was getting.

Then the lights came on and a little fat guy came out of one corner, clearly upset by the way things were going. Lumbering along behind him was a body builder type wearing a badly tailored suit. Liz2 was already surrounded by several club patrons whom also seemed unhappy. Her hands flickered through the air in casual movements and three of the men were clutched over with their hands clasped to their balls, screaming in pain.

"Oooh, nasty," Eddie said, wincing.

The bouncer winced as well but his momentum was carrying him forward, arms outstretched in front of him. Liz2 grabbed one of them, spun around with one leg stretched out stiffly to her side and tripped the guy's feet over it. He went face down on top of a table which collapsed underneath him with a series of cracks from the splintering wood. Liz2 kicked him neatly in the side of the head, pulled out a tiny container from one of her pouches and threw it up into the air. I heard a sound like a an overgrown mosquito, miniature wings appeared out of the side of the container as if it were a cruise missile being launched and the thing zipped around underneath the ceiling as erratically as a bee trying to find a way past a window pane -- and behind it was a trail of mist which disappeared as quickly as it appeared.

In my alter ego's world they certainly knew how to deal with riot situations. If you've ever had itching powder dropped down your neck you'll have just the faintest idea of what effect that mist had. The only person it didn't seem to bother was Liz2 -- everybody else in the room began tearing off their clothes. All bar the stripper: she was still standing on the stage with her mouth hanging open and her bare boobs totally unheeded as she watched her audience feverishly stripping off in front of her. I'd like to say I thought it was all a great joke -- I'd like to say that but I can't because I was desperately trying to get out of that room before that damned de-clothing agent dispersal drone caught up with me.

I almost escaped -- almost. I would have done if a certain gentleman carrying a laptop computer hadn't elbowed me aside in his panic to get to the door first. Eddie, the bastard!

Not that he didn't do his best to help me when I shot out into the corridor scratching myself like a hound dog in a flea pit. He opened a side door, pushed me through it and then began to help me take off my clothes. Any other time I would have hit the sod but just then I didn't care about anything about relieving the effects of that powder. Luckily, Liz2 appeared as I was down to my bra and panties and sprayed me with a small aersol can which instantly negated the itching. It was well worth all the pain and hassle to see the pissed off expression on Eddie's face.

There were men out in the corridor who sounded as if they would have killed to get the same relief -- naked men yelping and crying and scratching their backs and butts on the walls. Eddie slammed the door shut and locked it, then looked around. It seemed to be a dressing room for the undressing girls who entertained at the club. One window, with bars across it, another alley outside, a row of green wheelie garbage bins.

He showed us a padlock which secured the grill in front of the window. "No problem. One squirt with that laser and we're free as birds. Through the window and away. But we need something else for our friend to wear in public."

He pulled aside a curtain and found some costumes hanging up behind it. There was one that Liz2 might just be able to squeeze into, a kind of American style nurse's uniform with buttons down the front.

"This'll do. It'll look as sexy as hell on her but it'll do. See if you can convince her to change into it."

That took some doing. The turning point was when I found a back pack, emptied it out and indicated to Liz2 that she could carry her suit and equipment inside it. Then she started to get changed, apparently not at all bothered about getting her gear off in front of Eddie. I was though: I told him to stand in the corner, well away from the mirrors, with his back to us.

"What are you being so fussy about, Liz? If she doesn't care, why should you?"

"Because her body is my body as well and I'm not giving away any sneak previews for you to snigger about. Turn around, you bloody drop kick!"

"OK, OK."

He couldn't behave himself though. He waited until the other girl didn't have a stitch on, then turned around and leered at us: "If all else fails, Liz, at least you've got the makings of a great synchronized swimming team."

I shall always be very, very sorry about what I did then. Perhaps God felt sorry afterwards for what he did to Lot's wife. All I can say is that I picked up the laptop from the dressing table where Eddie had put it down whilst he was trying to get my clothes off. I picked it up and hurled it at him in anger and he caught it. Perhaps the impact switched it off -- I don't know. Anyway, the computer just wasn't there any more -- and neither was Eddie.

We got away all right, nobody noticed us. I guess we'd have had to work really hard to get much attention in a city street full of naked men being hosed down by fire trucks. We drove back to my place and we sat around for a while. I was hoping Eddie would show up or contact me, but he didn't. In the end there was no choice but to call the police and tell them the story.

I've had a strange life since then. When the authorities finally accepted that my story was true they rushed in every kind of expert to talk to Ch'ing Ming (Liz2's real name). Ever hear of the Mongols? Genghis Khan and his mob? Probably the most savage imperialists in history. They went on a thirteen hundred kilometre rumble in China which lasted a hundred and twenty days. Behind them they left twenty eight totally destroyed cities with every man, woman and child either dead or wearing a slave collar.

After they'd finished devastating China the Mongols went into Russia and became the only invading force in history to win a winter campaign there. In our history the Great Khan of the Mongols eventually ruled from Vietnam to Turkey. In Ch'ing Ming's world the Mongols rule everybody, everywhere.

The key change seems to have happened in 1241 -- or perhaps it would be more accurate from Ch'ing Ming's point of view to say that it didn't happen. In that year the Mongol armies swept into Europe under Ghenghis Khan's son, Ogotai, devastating Hungary and Poland. They
abandoned the campaign when Ogotai died unexpectedly. But in Ch'ing Ming's history Ogotai lived to a ripe old age and Europe was totally crushed under the hooves of the Golden Horde.

As I say, it's been a strange experience. I'll never forget the first time Ch'ing Ming met an Australian of Asian origin and instantly went down on her hands and knees to kow-tow to him, knocking her head on the floor in submission. I felt strange about myself after that. I felt even stranger when I found out she was the Master-at-Arms aboard one of the great orbiting space stations of the Mongolian Cosmonaut Fleet. One of her jobs was to punish unsatisfactory slaves by skinning them alive -- learning that has changed my feelings about her a lot. It's changed my feelings about myself as well, and I don't much like the ones I have now.

Yet how can I reconcile that side of her with the girl whom kept and treasured audio records of fairy stories recounted in the last vestiges of the language which was once English? Stories about maids and knights and dragons. It wasn't Ch'ing Ming's fault that on her world the dragons had long since killed Saint George and all his knights.

So now we travel the world in great secrecy and talk to the most important people in it, people who have nothing much in common except a total hatred and fear of Eddie Rosenbaum.

Because Eddie might just find his way home eventually -- and bring the Mongols with him.


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